3 Ways Colleges Can Encourage Students to Use Available Mental Health Resources
Giving college students the proper tools to effectively manage stressors is crucial for mitigating potential emergency situations.
Any campus safety strategy today must account for student mental health. Students on college and university campuses face a multitude of stressors every day. Acknowledging these stressors and empowering students to handle them effectively is crucial for mitigating possible emergency situations.
The unfortunate reality is that certain trends are moving in the wrong direction. Student suicide rates increased 30% between 2000 and 2018 before declining slightly in 2019 and 2020. Then there is the sobering fact that the number of school shooting incidents has gone up considerably every year since 2018 with recent reports indicating that there were over 100 school shootings in the 2021-2022 school year.
Furthermore, U.S. residents continue to be rocked by tragedies like we recently saw in Uvalde, Texas, which resulted in the deaths of 19 students and two teachers. These incidents, combined with persistent COVID-19 pandemic outcomes and a general rise in student anxiety levels, require that school leaders take a hard look at mental health.
Fortunately, a robust communication strategy that promotes the availability of mental health support and resources can make a tremendous difference in allaying student concerns. The key is knowing what components to include in outreach strategies. To that end, here are three best practices that campus safety teams can employ to improve mental health support for college and university students.
1. Consolidate Mental Health Resources
The first proactive step is to aggregate mental health resources in one place. This consolidation should happen in a digital platform or mobile application that students can easily access at any time.
Campus safety leaders should first digitize their mental health assets along with links to 988, the nationwide suicide-prevention hotline, contact information for counseling support, guidance for navigating specific stressors, anonymous resources, and more. Then, they need to centralize these resources and communicate far and wide about where they are located. Administrators should encourage students to download any safety apps or walk them through exactly how to find the mental health resources hub. It can also be helpful to conduct workshops and to communicate via video about how to navigate to this central repository.
Having all mental health resources in one place takes the burden off students to track down the help they need. It also makes it easier for campus safety managers to stay on top of their mental health resource collection and more efficiently get the word out to the masses. The process of consolidating resources may also help leaders identify where they have inconsistencies or gaps in their mental health support infrastructure. Filling these voids is paramount, particularly at a time like this.
2. Give Students Multiple Ways to Report Problems Anonymously
Campus safety leaders today should also provide students with several avenues for communicating their concerns anonymously. These private pathways are critical, as they help students feel safe about sharing sensitive information. Students should be able to pursue help for themselves or their peers without revealing who they are before they are ready.
These anonymous channels can take different forms. One popular implementation is the anonymous tip line that students can call at any time with sensitive details. College and university administrators can also configure their campus safety apps to accept submissions via text, email, or online input forms – whatever is easiest for students.
Although there has been a growing interest in mental health in recent years, it’s still important for campuses to provide these anonymous channels. Students need to feel like they can move forward on their own terms when it comes to getting mental health support. And they should feel comfortable reporting about classmates who are clearly in need of dedicated help. Anonymous reporting plus centralized resources are the first two pillars of a successful mental health communication strategy.
3. Use Mass Notification Best Practices
Furthermore, campus safety leaders should have mass notification systems that enable them to gently remind students about available mental health resources, especially after tragic incidents. These systems should be able to distribute messages across multiple channels and in various ways – e.g., automated phone calls, emails, text messages, desktop alerts, digital signage, and mobile app notifications.
The important thing is to utilize a mass notification tool that gives students the flexibility to choose their preferred communication approach from a range of options. Doing so helps increase engagement and visibility. Students are more likely to see timely updates and reminders when important alerts come through their preferred channels.
It’s also helpful for campus safety leaders to be able to segment their student populations within their mass notification systems. Then they can publish tailored messages to individual groups. On bigger campuses, it’s possible that certain situations only affect a subset of the student body. It can be counterproductive to send a message to 50,000 students when it’s only relevant to 10% of recipients.
In many cases, it makes sense to parse out students based on their extracurricular activities. For instance, schools may want to provide additional support to student-athletes who are under immense performance pressure. Universities may also want to group students based on their tenure, knowing that freshmen have different needs from seniors. Campuses with undergraduates and postgraduates might want to reach these groups separately depending on a given situation.
The benefit of this approach is that it minimizes alert fatigue. Seniors don’t have to receive notifications about mental health resources intended to support younger students who are adjusting to the undergraduate experience. In the same vein, freshmen don’t need to receive messages about mental health resources intended for seniors who are stressed about their post-graduate plans. Non-athletes shouldn’t have to hear about resources dedicated to those who play sports.
Beyond these examples, there are many other ways colleges and universities can segment students. Campus safety leaders should think carefully about all the cross-sections within their student populations that have unique mental health needs. The more leaders can customize outbound messages to well-defined groups, the better their reach will be when it comes to mental health efforts.
On top of being able to send messages across different channels and to different groups, it’s crucial for mass notification systems to be highly dependable. Outgoing messages should reach their intended recipients quickly and reliably, regardless of how many recipients there are. Incoming messages, like anonymous tips, should transmit securely and only reach those with the appropriate permissions.
Having a trustworthy mass notification system ensures that student mental health concerns are not lost on campus safety leaders. It also gives students confidence that faculty and wellness resources are available to them whenever the need arises.
Invest in One Comprehensive Solution
Supporting student mental health should be a chief concern for campus safety leaders during the 2022-2023 school year. Students are under immense pressure to perform in the classroom. In the background, macro-level stressors – the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, mass school shootings, and more – are also weighing heavily on learners of all ages.
Campus safety leaders must recognize all the factors that affect student well-being and invest in mental health resources accordingly. But having resources on hand is not enough. Administrators must make these resources accessible by adopting technologies that can send updates at scale, consolidate information, receive student input, and adapt according to the unique needs of the campus.
The best path forward is to implement a single comprehensive campus safety app that addresses the best practices described here. With the right solution, it’s possible to maintain a dedicated mental health support tool that’s simple for higher education administrators to manage, effective for student users, and easy for all to trust. Such a platform is essential for colleges and universities today.
Todd Miller is SVP of Strategic Programs at Rave Mobile Safety.