According to a 2022 College Pulse survey, more than half of students reported their mental health as “fair” or “poor,” but only 13 percent said they used on-campus counseling services. When asked if they knew where they could seek help on campus if they were struggling with their mental health, only 26 percent strongly agreed that they did.
The reasons why students don’t seek out mental health services are varied. A 2020 study published in the journal European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, sought to answer this question and found that limited knowledge of mental health, perceived stigma and embarrassment, financial costs, and availability of resources all play a role.
Just because student’s aren’t utilizing mental health services doesn’t mean they don’t need them. Here’s what colleges and universities can do to improve utilization rates:
Create Awareness Campaigns
Awareness campaigns can be used to combat mental health stigma on campus and remind students that free support is available. This is, especially, relevant during stressful times of the year, including during midterms and finals – or even in the first few weeks when students are facing various peer pressures and undergoing high levels of social anxiety.
Research shows mental health awareness campaigns are effective at reducing stigma toward help-seeking behaviors. They should be used by colleges and universities to debunk misinformation, increase knowledge and awareness of mental health issues, and remind students that they don’t have to suffer alone.
We recommend doing campaigns around mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and suicidality, and focusing on signs and symptoms, treatment options, and pathways to care, so students feel empowered to seek support when they’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, depressed, or are unable to function in their day-to-day lives.
Build Marketing Initiatives Around Mental Health Services
“You want to reach students where they are and create enough awareness of mental health resources so students will utilize the services when they need them,” says Kelly Carleton, VP of Program Success at Mantra Health. “Email and social media campaigns sent out to the student body announcing that these services are available and how to sign up for them are very effective.”
She also suggests pinning a banner on Blackboard or similar learning management systems so students are consistently reminded that mental health services are available at no cost.
Reaching students isn’t always easy, so go where they are. Start a social media account for the counseling center. Put up flyers in highly-populated areas, as well as nearby establishments, including coffee shops and libraries. Put ads in the school newsletter or student magazines. Encourage student groups to share information about new mental health offerings as they become available.
Host Free Mental Health Workshops and Events
Students may not feel comfortable walking into the counseling center or signing up for a one-on-one session, but they may attend a free webinar on mental health issues and pressing concerns like test anxiety, financial stress, time management, grief, or self-care.
“This can humanize providers and help them become more integrated into the conversation around mental health and wellness on campus,” Carleton says.
If your counseling staff is overburdened and unable to provide these workshops, you can work with third-party providers, including telehealth companies, to make these available to students. Ideally, the providers running the workshops are also available for one-on-one sessions should these students decide to seek out professional support.
Improve Accessibility Through Telehealth
Telehealth services have been shown to be just as effective as in-person care and many students prefer this option. Telehealth can help extend counseling service hours, which are traditionally only available between 9am and 5pm, ensuring that students get support where and when they need it. It can also help reduce wait times to care.
When working with a telehealth provider, make sure you’re gaining access to a diverse pool of providers who practice cultural humility and offer unique specializations, such as trauma-informed and gender-affirming care. Students often want providers who match their own background, identity, race, gender, or shared lived experiences – and knowing that diverse providers are available will encourage more students to utilize the telehealth offering.
We know how hard it is to reach students, which is why our Partner Success team works closely with colleges and universities to ensure that students know about existing services, have self-referral options, and are supported during breaks and in the summer months when many go home to other states. We work closely with our partners to build tailored care offerings, including 24/7 campus-specific crisis hotlines and student mental health and wellness workshops.
“Mantra is unique in how they relate to our students,” said Lourdes Perez, EdD, Director of Student Services Operations at Miami Dade College. “The workshops that Mantra provided were very well attended. I had the best attendance I’ve had compared to any other workshop that I’ve provided.”
While rates of mental health service utilization have increased among college students over the past decade, many barriers still exist that prevent these young adults from getting the help they need. Consider working with a mental health provider that knows the challenges faced by students and works collaboratively with on-campus staff to really tailor the mental health resources and services to the campus.
To learn more about Mantra Health and our offerings, check out our University page.