3 ways colleges can encourage students to use available mental health resources
Giving students the proper tools to effectively manage stressors is crucial to mitigating potential emergency situations.
Any campus safety strategy today must consider the mental health of students. Students on college and university campuses face a multitude of stressors daily. Recognizing these stressors and empowering students to manage them effectively is crucial to mitigating possible emergency situations.
The sad reality is that some trends are going in the wrong direction. Student suicide rates increased by 30% between 2000 and 2018 before declining slightly in 2019 and 2020. Then there is the sobering fact that the number of school shootings has increased significantly each year since 2018. , with recent reports indicating that there have been more than 100 school shootings. in the 2021-2022 school year.
Additionally, American residents continue to be rocked by tragedies as we saw recently in Uvalde, Texas, which resulted in the deaths of 19 students and two teachers. These incidents, combined with the lingering results of the COVID-19 pandemic and a general increase in student anxiety levels, demand that school leaders take a close look at mental health.
Fortunately, a robust communication strategy that promotes the availability of mental health supports and resources can make a huge difference in alleviating student concerns. The key is knowing what elements to include in outreach strategies. To that end, here are three best practices that campus safety teams can use to improve mental health support for college and university students.
1. Strengthen mental health resources
The first proactive step is to bring mental health resources together in one place. This consolidation should be done on a digital platform or mobile application that students can easily access at any time.
Campus safety officials must first digitize their mental health assets along with links to 988, the national suicide prevention hotline, contact information for counseling services, tips for navigating specific stressors, anonymous resources, etc. Then they need to centralize those resources and communicate widely about their location. Administrators should encourage students to download all safety apps or explain exactly how to find the Mental Health Resource Center. It can also be useful to organize workshops and communicate by video on how to navigate to this central repository.
Having all mental health resources in one place relieves students of the burden of finding the help they need. It also makes it easier for campus safety officials to stay current with their collection of mental health resources and get the message out to the masses more effectively. The resource consolidation process can also help leaders identify where they have inconsistencies or gaps in their mental health support infrastructure. Filling those voids is paramount, especially at a time like this.
2. Give students multiple ways to report issues anonymously
Today, campus safety officials should also provide students with several ways to report concerns anonymously. These private channels are essential because they help students feel safe when sharing sensitive information. Students should be able to seek help for themselves or their peers without revealing who they are until they are ready.
These anonymous channels can take different forms. A popular implementation is the anonymous phone line which students can call anytime with sensitive details. College and university administrators can also configure their campus security apps to accept submissions via text, email, or online entry forms, whichever is easiest for students.
Although there has been a growing interest in mental health in recent years, it is still important for campuses to provide these anonymous channels. Students need to feel they can move forward on their own terms when it comes to getting mental health support. And they should feel comfortable pointing out classmates who clearly need dedicated help. Anonymous reporting and centralized resources are the first two pillars of a successful mental health communication strategy.
3. Use mass notification best practices
Additionally, campus safety officials should have mass notification systems in place to gently remind students of available mental health resources, especially after tragic incidents. These systems must be able to distribute messages across multiple channels and in different ways, for example, automated phone calls, emails, text messages, desktop alerts, digital signage, and mobile app notifications.
The important thing is to use a mass notification tool that gives students the opportunity to choose their preferred communication approach from a range of options. This increases engagement and visibility. Students are more likely to see timely updates and reminders when important alerts arrive through their preferred channels.
It is also useful for campus security managers to be able to segment their student populations within their mass notification systems. Then they can post personalized messages to individual groups. On larger campuses, some situations may only affect a subset of the student body. It can be counterproductive to send a message to 50,000 students when it only concerns 10% of the recipients.
In many cases, it makes sense to analyze students based on their extracurricular activities. For example, schools may want to provide additional support to student-athletes who are under immense performance pressure. Universities may also want to group students according to tenure, knowing that freshmen have different needs than seniors. Campuses with undergraduates and postgraduates might want to reach these groups separately depending on a given situation.
The advantage of this approach is that it minimizes alert fatigue. Seniors do not need to be notified about mental health resources intended to support younger students adjusting to the undergraduate experience. Along the same lines, freshmen do not need to receive messages about mental health resources for seniors stressed by their graduate plans. Non-athletes shouldn’t have to hear about resources dedicated to those who play sports.
Beyond these examples, there are many other ways for colleges and universities to segment students. Campus safety leaders need to think carefully about all cross-sections of their student populations who have unique mental health needs. The more leaders can personalize outgoing messages for well-defined groups, the better their reach will be for mental health efforts.
In addition to being able to send messages over different channels and to different groups, it is crucial that mass notification systems are highly reliable. Outgoing messages must reach their recipients quickly and reliably, regardless of the number of recipients. Incoming messages, such as anonymous advice, should be transmitted securely and only reach those with the appropriate permissions.
Having a reliable mass notification system ensures that student mental health issues are not lost on campus security officials. It also gives students confidence that faculty and welfare resources are available to them whenever the need arises.
Invest in a complete solution
Supporting student mental health is expected to be a top concern for campus safety leaders in the 2022-23 school year. Students are under immense pressure to perform in class. In the background, macro-level stressors – the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, mass school shootings, etc. – also weigh heavily on learners of all ages.
Campus safety leaders must recognize all factors that affect student well-being and invest in mental health resources accordingly. But having resources is not enough. Administrators must make these resources accessible by adopting technologies that can send updates at scale, consolidate information, receive student feedback, and adapt to unique campus needs.
The best way forward is to implement a single, comprehensive campus security application that meets the best practices described here. With the right solution, it is possible to maintain a dedicated mental health support tool that is simple to manage for higher education administrators, effective for student users, and everyone can trust. Such a platform is essential for colleges and universities today.
Todd Miller is SVP of Strategic Programs at Rave Mobile Safety.