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How Timely Support Can Improve Student Mental Health

  • 5 Min Read

College and university students carry a lot of weight on their shoulders. It starts before college with the pressure to build a standout resume to get into their postsecondary school of choice. Once that hurdle is clear, these youth are expected to adjust to a new style of living and studying and have the added burden of fitting in with a new group of peers. On top of all this, they need to do well academically and not lose sight of the fact that their future career success hinges largely on their performance at college. When all these factors are taken together, it’s no wonder the mental health of students is suffering.

As described by the World Health Organization, “Mental health is a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community. It is an integral component of health and well-being that underpins our individual and collective abilities to make decisions, build relationships and shape the world we live in. Mental health is a basic human right. And it is crucial to personal, community and socioeconomic development.”

Mental health can affect people on different levels and with varying degrees of difficulty, both socially and clinically.

With this description in mind, here’s why it’s critical to have a pulse on the mental health of college and university students.

The Importance of Student Mental Health

According to the American Council on Education, in April of 2020, the mental health of students was ranked fifth—supported by 41% of respondents—out of the 14 most pressing issues facing U.S. college presidents.

In the fall of 2020, student mental health had jumped to first place, backed by 53% of presidents, and remained the top issue in the spring of 2021, with 72% of the vote.

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With student mental health becoming a more pressing issue, it’s important for colleges and universities to have plans in place to support their students.

If students are feeling overwhelmed or not like themselves, it can have a trickle-down effect on their schooling—and ultimately, their success.

How Student Mental Health Can Impact Retention

Having to make such critical decisions at a young age is bound to have an impact on anybody’s mental health. In the 2022 Sallie Mae report “How America Completes College,” almost a third of the over 500 students surveyed who didn’t complete college said mental health issues contributed to their withdrawal; 14% said mental health reasons were the main influence on their decision to leave school.

If students aren’t feeling like themselves, it can cloud their judgment to the point that dropping out may seem like the only answer. Instead of giving up, there are many options to kickstart changes that students may not be aware of.

If students who are mentally at risk can be identified earlier on, college faculty, administration and staff can step in to help explore options to lighten their load so they will not feel the need to drop out.

Using Technology to Identify At-Risk Students

Having at-risk students choose to stay in school and pursue their goals is important, but the priority should be their health. The first step in any situation with a student who is struggling with their mental health should be to suggest options for professional resources or people to speak with.

Many postsecondary institutions offer on-campus mental health services. From self-help resources to single-session, peer and specialized supports, options are available to students seeking help.

Once it’s been determined that the student is in a better mental space or has the scaffolding in place to get them there, suggestions to help them get on the right academic path can be pursued.

If students who are mentally at risk can be identified earlier on, college faculty, administration and staff can step in to help explore options to lighten their load so they will not feel the need to drop out.

One way to do this is by analyzing data provided by your learning management system (LMS). A high-functioning LMS, like D2L Brightspace®, will be able to highlight students who are at risk based on data points like poor performance or lack of engagement.

In addition, looking for an LMS that has strong partnerships with access to tools that focus on addressing and developing learners on an individual level can provide additional insight into student behavior.

D2L partners with Discourse Analytics, a company that believes in data over demographics and in engaging with students on an individual level to help meet their academic, financial, social and wellness needs.

By using data provided by the LMS and other student engagement channels, the Discourse Analytics Digital Counselor™ platform can create customized nudges that drive improved learning outcomes through authentic, trustworthy conversations. This data can be shared with academic advisors, who can see at a glance how and why a student may be at risk and begin to implement a plan to help get them back on track.

Provide the Right Help at the Right Time

Once vulnerable students have been identified, reaching out to them with options to change their academic journey can help them consider solutions other than withdrawing.

Here are some supports students who may be struggling mentally with the pressures of college can explore to help with the stress:

  • On-campus mental health services: As previously mentioned, most colleges and universities will offer services on campus aimed at getting students the help they need.
  • Change of program: If a student is performing poorly, it may be because their program is a bad fit. Before they drop out, have them consider other programs available at the institution that might work better for them and start the transfer process.
  • Reduced course load: A full-time course load can be a lot for one student to take on. Let students know when and if they can reduce the number of courses they’re taking per term to help them focus on their studies.
  • Career counseling: Sometimes it can be hard for students to see the light at the end of the tunnel or the purpose of their studies. Meeting with a professional career counselor can help them define a clear path of where they want to go after school and see the value in the hard work they’re doing.
  • Financial aid: College is expensive, but there are grants, scholarships and bursaries available to provide financial assistance to those who need it. Invite students to meet with their financial aid office to come up with a plan on how they can reduce their tuition fees.

Before students jump to the conclusion that postsecondary education isn’t a good fit, it’s important to provide them with alternatives to explore what their academic journey can look like.

By identifying students who may be at risk, faculty and administrators can put preventative measures in place before the situation gets worse. Providing students with the right information at the right time can stop them from heading down a dark path and instead support them to move toward a bright future.

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