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How Timely Support Can Improve Student Mental Health

  • 5 Min Read

Find out how data can help identify and provide support for at-risk students in higher ed.


Attending university can be stressful. It starts before the new academic adventure with the pressure to get good results and build an impressive c.v. to get into the university and study of choice. Once that hurdle is clear, young people 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 mainly on their performance. When all these factors are combined, it’s no wonder the students’ mental health is suffering.

The World Health Organization says, “Mental health is a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realise their abilities, learn well and work well and contribute to their community. Mental health is a fundamental human right. It is an integral component of health and well-being that underpins our individual and collective abilities to make decisions, build relationships and shape our world.  And it is crucial to personal, community and socio-economic development.”

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

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

Students’ emotional health in Europe is an important topic that has received more attention since the pandemic. According to research from the WHO, mental health disorders make up almost 40% of all chronic conditions in Europe. The European Universities Association introduced a project in July 2022 to create sustainable policies across all European Union members to prioritise mental health among students.

With student mental health now a pressing issue, universities need to have plans to support their students.

If students feel overwhelmed, it can have a detrimental effect on their academic career—and, ultimately, their success.

How Student Mental Health Can Impact Retention

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

If students aren’t feeling like themselves, it can cloud their judgment to the point that dropping out may seem the only answer. Rather than giving up, students may need to become aware of many options to kickstart change.

If students who are at risk can be identified earlier on, 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

The stress of having to make critical decisions at a young age is bound to have an impact on anyone’s mental health. The first step in any situation with a student 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 specialised 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, 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 analysing 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 downward changes in performance or declines in 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 behaviour.

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 customised 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 university can explore to help with the stress:

  • On-campus mental health services: most universities 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 counselling: 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 counsellor 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.

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.

Written by:

Kristine Clark
Kristine Clark

Kristine Clark is part of the EMEA Marketing Team with a focus on content and email marketing. Combining a love for languages and culture with over 2 decades of marketing skills.

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Table of Contents
  1. The Importance of Student Mental Health
  2. How Student Mental Health Can Impact Retention
  3. Using Technology to Identify At-Risk Students
  4. Provide the Right Help at the Right Time