Minding students’ mental health is just as important as implementing positive programs for physical health. “If we don’t take care of our mental health, we may not be able to reach our goals, maintain good relationships, and function well in day-to-day situations,” says Dr. Chrissy Salley, a psychologist in New York who works with students of all ages. For students, academic expectations, competing priorities, and navigating having more to do with even less time can take a toll on their mental health and well-being.
We all have the chance to play an important role in helping students access mental health services, both as a preventive measure and as a way to treat any issues students are facing.
Therapy is backed by a compelling arsenal of research
A study of college students who received therapeutic treatment for depression had outcomes nearly 90 percent better than those of control groups, according to a 2015 analysis of studies published in Depression and Anxiety. And the science-backed benefits extend beyond treating depression. There’s strong evidence that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help students better handle a variety of mental health issues and stressors, according to an analysis of more than 200 studies (Cognitive Therapy and Research, 2012). The researchers found that CBT helped those struggling with anxiety, anger issues, stress, bulimia, and other mental health issues.
Even though talking about mental health is becoming less stigmatized, taking steps to engage in a therapeutic process can still be confusing and intimidating for students. Here are five strategies for supporting students’ mental health.
1 Normalize therapy
Surveys show it’s not out of the ordinary to see a therapist. “Few people look forward to therapy, but students should be aware that therapy exists to help them, not to judge them,” says Zachary Alti, LMSW, a psychotherapist and professor at the Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service in New York. Support students by helping to reduce stigma surrounding mental health services. “I’d encourage students to keep an open mind and try it,” says Dr. Salley.
2 Make mental health just as important as physical health on campus
“Therapy is like physical exercise,” says Alti. Strive to promote counseling services to benefit students’ mental health in the same way you may already be promoting other healthy activity.
3 Meet students where they are
“Therapy can be useful by helping people acquire a better understanding of themselves and develop healthy habits,” says Dr. Salley. Remember that “even positive changes can be stressful,” she says. “Having someone to talk to can be helpful, especially as you encounter new situations and people.”
4 Guide students to resources on campus and off
One of the biggest barriers for students can be figuring out where to start. For students, provide resources to help them find local providers; for example, a Student Advocate HELPline ([email protected]) referral will connect a student with a point of contact at Ashford that can assist with identifying needed mental health resources, while dialing a local 2-1-1 allows a student to initiate this process on their own with plans to reach back out if interested in additional support with the process.
5 Reinforce confidentiality
Wherever someone might be seeking mental health services, students may be concerned that what they share with a counselor might get back to someone they don’t feel comfortable sharing the information with, such as an advisor. “A therapist isn’t allowed to do this unless the student poses a threat to themselves or others,” says Alti. Because “a therapist’s effectiveness is dependent on maintaining trust,” it’s important to make it clear to students that their information and privacy will be protected.Get help or find out more
Zachary Alti, LMSW, clinical professor at Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service; psychotherapist in New York City.
Dana Crawford, PhD, individual and family therapist, New York.
Chrissy Salley, PhD, pediatric psychologist, New York.
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