Integration of mental health in colleges

College life is filled with new experiences and constant challenges. The transition period is combined with various biological, emotional, and social ups and downs. Students are stirred into new environments overwhelmed by ambiguity, vulnerability, confusion and weak support systems.
Most Common Mental Health Issues College Students tend to experience range from depression, anxiety, undetected learning difficulties, eating disorders, bipolar disorders, addictions, self-harm, relationship difficulties and struggles with their identity. These difficulties often lead to failures and college drop outs.
Research suggests most mental health disorders emerge by late adolescence and early adulthood. The earlier treatment is received, the better outcomes. Colleges often provide various sessions on student’s health, lifestyle topics so why not address mental health more directly?
Dr. Rashmi Kulkarni, Professor and Co-author of textbook on Education, Maharashtra State Board of Higher School Education shared her inputs regarding the importance of mental health initiatives in colleges. She says “Due to Parental pressure and lack of parental dialogue students are coerced into careers they are uninterested which affects their social and academic performance. Insufficient accessibility to counselling services makes it difficult to seek help This situation creates more confused teens where instead of finding healthy long term solutions they often slip back to temporary relief. Colleges are most often ill-equipped and inadequately supported to handle the youth’s mental health. The teaching staff are untrained in mental health programs and struggle dealing with situations when students approaches them”.
The mental health struggles students have to face may be overwhelming and there are abundant opportunities to pitch in and offer support from the college. How can colleges integrate mental health into the education system?
  • Having mental health screenings that assesses the needs of the students using various methods of data collection informally (interviews) and formally (questionnaires) could help gather data with the diverse student perspectives. This would identify the existing mental health needs of the students and provide in-depth understanding to help build a uniform mental health practice and policy.
  • Social Emotional Learning Program integrated in to the curriculum could help educate the students with appropriate knowledge on mental health. Research suggests increase in social and emotional capabilities leads to improved academic achievement and general well-being of the students. Schools have begun including social emotional learning into their curriculums in a slow and steady manner though the continuation of it into colleges is questionable. The program would focus on building resilience as an ability for the students to be able to bounce back in adversity and create a supportive learning environment.
  • The stakeholders invested in the student’s life including the parents, teachers and other staff members to be trained with updated mental health programs. Teachers and staff members could play a fundamental role as mental health advocates by actively participating in advocacy efforts and talking more openly about mental health symptoms as well as sharing available resources.
  • Conducting workshops and collaborative events creating opportunities to integrate mental health promotion and prevention. Events with activities that could vary from traditional presentations and panel discussions to group discussions, theme based photography, singing and dancing programs tend to gain attention of the students on topics like suicide prevention and mental health awareness day. Having peer support programs, as well as technology-based services like an online platform or forum to share their viewpoints could also be useful in engaging the students to begin the dialogue of mental health.
  • Counselling services to be easily accessible and affordable. Individual as well as group sessions can be advantageous for the students. It is essential for the students to know that it is ok not to be ok and seek help. And it may help them to know that they don’t have to be able to know exactly what’s wrong before they seek assistance.
In addition to uncovering the underlying causes for students' mental health issues, colleges could find ways to provide access to resources in ways that best fit to the needs of their student body which could be imperative by having an integrative education system.

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Jenisha Shah

Psychologist & Outreach Associate, Mpower