Student Mental Health: Reminders for a New School Year

In January 2023, the Cromwell CTL co-sponsored a retreat about engagement and disengagement on campus and how we might readjust to college learning in this particular moment. One of our guests was Roland Jennings, Clinical Coordinator for Counseling Services at Washington College. As we prepare for the coming school year, it may be helpful to revisit some of the information that he shared and remind ourselves of the importance of student mental health.

Student Mental Health in 2023

Roland emphasized the unusually high rates of mental health issues that teens and young adults are contending with. At a national level, 80% of students in 2021 reported that emotional or mental health difficulties hurt their academic performance on one or more days in the previous month. People between the ages of 18-25 are at the highest risk of dying by suicide. And 80% of higher education faculty report that they dealt with student mental health issues in the past year. Roland shared that he is seeing high levels of students in crisis and students dealing with intense anxiety in his work at the counseling center.

Some additional statistics from the JED Foundation:

  • 1 in 3 (30.6%) young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 experienced a mental, behavioral, or emotional health issue in the past year (SAMHSA, 2021).
  • Among college students, 29.1% have been diagnosed with anxiety and 23.6% have been diagnosed with depression (NCHA, 2021).
  • Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for teens and young adults, ages 10-34 (CDC, 2022).
  • 25.5% of adults ages 18-24 reported having seriously considered suicide in the past month. This is a higher percentage than any other adult age group (CDC, 2020).

These statistics can provide us with some perspective. While we can continue to have high expectations for our students, we can also keep in mind that safety and wellbeing are the most important thing. These data also serve as a reminder that many of our students are struggling with serious mental health issues even when they don’t disclose them to us.

Tips for Faculty & Staff

Here are some tips for faculty and staff when interacting with students who share that they are experiencing mental health issues or who may be in crisis:

  • Talk to the student in private.
  • Listen empathically and non-judgmentally, validate their thoughts and feelings.
  • Express hope to the student by suggesting that it could be helpful to talk to someone at the Counseling Center who is trained to address their concerns.
  • If the student is willing, have them call Health and Counseling Services at 410-778-7261 to schedule an appointment from your office.
  • If necessary, and with permission from student, call and request to speak with a counselor yourself to consult about the student’s circumstances.
  • If there is a threat of danger or harm, seek emergency assistance by calling Public Safety at 410-778-7810 or 911.
  • Follow up with the student to see if they kept the appointment.

The Syllabus & Classroom Interactions

We engage with students through our syllabi, our Canvas pages, and our interactions in the classroom and beyond. Here are some ways to convey important information and a supportive attitude in those spaces.

  • Include information about the Counseling Center (contact information and location) in your syllabi and Canvas pages.
  • Convey the importance of mental health in writing and during class.
  • Since some students come from homes where mental health issues may be stigmatized, it can be helpful for them to see people in positions of authority (faculty and staff) endorsing mental health treatment, such as counseling.
  • According to Krista Speicher Sarraf, we can “Model self-care and help-seeking behaviors.” Faculty can also be flexible with deadlines and other aspects of student assessment.
  • If you notice things that may be cause for concern, such as absences, missing work, or unresponsiveness to emails, don’t hesitate to file a CARE report.

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