Supporting students with their mental health during remote learning

One in five college students say their mental health has worsened under COVID-19, according to new research from Active Minds. Learn how to support them here.

5 min readPublished: 18 Dec 2020

One in five college students say their mental health has significantly worsened under COVID-19, according to new research from Active Minds.

All students will be dealing with new challenges during this pandemic. They may lose loved ones or contract the virus themselves. Remote learning could cause isolation and damage to the economy, may result in financial problems or concern about the future job market. Some students may even be assisting in the frontline effort to tackle the virus.

The consequences of these challenges should not be underestimated. Research has found a third of students drop out of university due to mental health reasons. And along with increased levels of depression and anxiety, a recent report found a disproportionate number (25.5%) of 18- to 24-year-olds had seriously considered suicide in the last 30 days.

How this college mental health crisis is affecting students with disabilities, already a vulnerable group on campus, is being felt by support departments across the US. Since the online shift began in Spring, more than two thirds of institutions have seen an increase in students applying for support and accommodations.

But with budgets stretched and typical channels of communication closed, providing necessary support has become more challenging. And given that disability resource offices will often be a student’s first point of contact with the wider institution, it’s more important now than ever for support professionals to orient students with available mental health support.

How administrators can help

1. Ensure communications are clear and timely

Over half of students (55%) surveyed said they would not know where to go if they needed professional mental health services, according to the Active Minds research. That makes an audit of current wellbeing communications - to ensure information is clear, accessible and timely - an important first step. As well as signposting to available mental health support, it’s important all relevant information, such as increased academic support or deadline leniency, is communicated clearly too, as some of it may have a knock-on mental health impact.

2. Identify high-risk students

Finding out who needs help and letting them know what support is available is crucial. However, the normal indicators for identifying high-risk students may not currently be applicable. New factors will have to be adopted, such as monitoring who hasn’t registered for online lectures or who has applied for deadline extensions for mitigating circumstances. Hopefully IT Services will have an appropriate learning management system in place to facilitate this, if not a system that enables this tracking should be established.

3. Provide support for bereaved students

It’s imperative that current bereavement policies are up-to-date and reflective of the extraordinary circumstances we’re experiencing. Likewise, it’s important that relevant students are signposted to appropriate internal and external bereavement support. It may also be beneficial to consider relaxing some of the administrative burden of bereaved students, such as requesting a death certificate as evidence of a mitigating circumstance.

4. Deliver digital mental health support

Online or phone counselling is one way to help more students access mental health support regardless of their location. However, it's important to confirm students have a private space to participate, particularly those in vulnerable circumstances such as those experiencing domestic abuse. Other barriers, such as access to reliable technology and internet connection, will need addressing, too. Likewise, some students may have additional needs which are challenging to support through digital means and may require a more bespoke approach.

5. Help students connect

According to the Active Minds research, students find tools that foster social connection the most useful for looking after their wellbeing. Help facilitate social connection the digital way by replacing cancelled events with online ones and making sure students know about them.

6. Address specific concerns

It’s important to make sure you’re prioritizing the right wellbeing projects as support required by your students may differ from your expectations. Given limited budgets, it is important money is spent on needed and effective initiatives. One way to find out what your students need is via regular online meetings with them, or by consulting with student communities.

In summary

One small silver lining of COVID-19 is that it has reduced the stigma of accessing mental health support. Universities can play a vital role in this by updating their provision of mental health support, to ensure that every student who needs help gets it. By taking proactive steps, universities can not only improve the student experience but also minimize dropout rates.

This list is by no means exhaustive and it’s worth pointing out that student wellbeing challenges will likely change as the pandemic develops. To stay updated and receive more tips from us, why not join our mailing list?

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