How Colleges Support Mental Health: Things to Look for During Your College Search

Nathan Wilgeroth / Colleges of Distinction »

(NOTICE: This article contains some mention of self-harm, suicide, and sexual assault.)

College is an exciting time full of new experiences that will completely expand your worldview and new friendships that will last a lifetime. You’ll discover new passions and deepen your knowledge in your areas of interest. While there are so many great things to come, it’s no question that the transition to and from college is full of dynamic changes that, while exciting, can be overwhelming. Preparing for this eventful launch into adulthood, it’s important to know what your school does to protect and care for the mental health of its students. 

Whether or not you have a diagnosed mental illness, remember that we all struggle with our mental health from time to time; homesickness, loneliness, and just plain-old stress can weigh on anyone. And just as schools should have resources at the ready to take care of physical illness, they should have a team and plan in place to help students through a variety of stressors. The examples below are just a few of the things to look out for when you’re searching for your future college or university. 

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Why Does Mental Healthcare Matter?

Something that both you and your school should remember is that mental health is tied to everything you do on a daily basis. For you, that means that you always have a right to seek out help for anything that’s bothering you. Lots of people try to brush off their issues, telling themselves that they shouldn’t feel bad because they haven’t hit rock bottom. Sadly, that’s the very psychological trap that can keep people from ever reaching out for help. However big or small, a problem that’s affecting your well-being is still a problem that can be dealt with. As Bryce Crapser, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services at Eastern Connecticut State University, says, “There is nothing wrong about seeking help when you need it. Sometimes you just need someone to help you get through a moment or a situation.” 

Colleges should be equally aware of how greatly mental health influences and is influenced by a young adult’s life. Emotional and mental health services should take a holistic approach to identifying and catering to students’ needs.

Professional Crisis Response On Campus

It is important to see that licensed mental healthcare providers are available for free through the student health services at an institution. These professionals are most aptly equipped to diagnose and judge the gravity of a problem someone might be facing. If need be, they can also prescribe medication or refer out to a facility in the city for higher levels of care.

For more serious or complicated issues that impact a student’s well-being, your school should have a comprehensive network of specialists who can properly address such issues as substance abuse and eating disorders. When care off campus is involved, a school’s student health services should have advisors available to help students understand their health insurance and finding in-network providers.

On-Campus Support

Even if counselors are free and available, chances are that many students who could use mental health support will not seek out help themselves. That’s why many schools, like the University of Montevallo in Alabama, regularly train faculty and staff to be able to identify students who may need help. Faculty who notice a student struggling can refer to UM’s multidisciplinary “CARE Teams” so that the student in question can be directed to whatever resources they may need. 

What’s more, the University also hosts regular Bystander Intervention Trainings to teach the community how to recognize and address sexual assault, dating/domestic violence, and stalking. Faculty, staff, and student leaders also undergo Suicide Prevention Training, and all RAs are trained in the areas of Crisis Management, Suicide Prevention, Sexual Assault Prevention, and Self-Care. 

Well-rounded intervention and support strategies ensure that a campus’ culture is brimming with a desire to help each student thrive. 

Emergency Walk-In and Remote Services

Dr. John Draper, Executive Director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, defines a crisis as “when your emotions so overwhelm your ability to function…that you can’t cope. And that can be temporary. In fact, crises by their very nature are temporary. But in the moment, they feel like things are never going to end.” Extreme moments like these, whether a student is feeling suicidal or otherwise in immense distress, that emergency services are vital. 

Just a brief moment to talk, calm down, and receive guidance can at the very least prevent physical injury or death by suicide when moments are dire. In fact, nearly 80% of callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline said that their call provided them hope and kept them from carrying out the suicide. On-the-spot services like these do not completely solve the issues of someone’s emotional distress, of course, but it saves a life in the moment, opening up the possibility to receive further care. National hotlines are helpful, but even more helpful are providers within a person’s community. 

Even if you cannot imagine getting to a place in which you would need emergency mental health support, you can gauge how seriously a school takes these issues by finding the breadth of services it offers. The University of Montevallo, for instance, offers walk-in and same-day emergency appointments, and it partners with the nearby Birmingham Crisis Center for 24/7 after-hour support. 

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A Culture of Care

Many schools are doing excellent things to foster a culture of care with different programming, events, and services that protect the mental health of their students. 

At the University of South Florida, students can participate in free Success and Wellness Coaching, which helps them identify their strengths, find their community, and implement short-term, action-oriented work toward any area of improvement: health, wellness, relationships, time management, etc. This one-on-one service is a great way for a student to get enthusiastic about their time as USF while learning ways that they can pursue a healthy mind.

Alvernia University guides students to success with the incredibly innovative sober living dormitory for young adults enrolled in the Pennsylvania-based Caron Treatment Center for substance abuse recovery. The compassionate model of sober living paired with a sense of academic purpose encourages students to complete college credits without harming their progress in recovery.

Radford University’s University 100 course actively supports students in making a successful transition to college while providing a solid academic foundation as well. It also hosts the BE S.E.E.N. (Be Seen Through Student Engagement and Education Now) program to connect different community-building activities to academic and campus life. With an ongoing support network through both in- and out-of-classroom initiatives, students are sure to have a faculty member or friend to lean on and support their emotional well-being.

This is only a select few of all the amazing work colleges and universities are doing to ensure that students are well taken care of and supported throughout their transition to young adulthood. As you look around for schools, check out the quality-of-life services that they offer; a school that shows a true commitment to students’ mental well-being is one that demonstrates its desire to help students learn, grow, and succeed.

Your experiences matter. If you are struggling, please reach out for support.

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1 (800) 656-4673
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1 (800) 273-8255
National Eating Disorders Association Hotline: 1 (800) 931-2237
TrevorLifeline – LGBTQ+ Crisis Hotline: 1 (866) 488-7386
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association Helpline: 1 (800) 662-4357

To connect with a Crisis Counselor, text HOME to 741741