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Addressing Mental Health Problems on Campus

Key Issue:

Addressing Mental Health From a Public Health Perspective

Many observers believe that college mental health prevention and wellness promotion is where alcohol and other drug (AOD) prevention was 15 to 20 years ago. At that time, campus administrators were concerned about the levels of high-risk AOD use and the vandalism, injury, assaults, and even deaths that resulted. Campuses sought guidance from Education Development Center, Inc.-based staff operating the U.S. Department of Education’s Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention on how to respond. Their experience mounting a national effort to assist campuses with AOD prevention demonstrates that it takes more than publications, web sites, and presentations – no matter how high their quality – to create campus change. Likewise, treatment alone will not solve the challenges most campuses face in addressing student mental health concerns. Campuses have to build their capacity to plan, implement, evaluate, and sustain comprehensive, campus-wide efforts.

Toward that end, the Center for College Health and Safety (CCHS) personnel, building from their experience operating the Higher Education Center, have been working with the Suicide Prevention Resource Center and other partners and collaborators, including the Jed Foundation, to assist campuses in implementing a comprehensive approach to addressing student mental health and well-being. The experience of working with these partners and collaborators and numerous campuses from across the country has given rise to the seven strategies listed below. These represent the general categories of strategies considered to be essential in addressing student mental health problems on campus.

Campuses may also want to consider how lessons learned from preventing and treating alcohol and other drug problems can be applied to mental health on campus. Many tenets of the environmental management approach have direct parallels to mental health promotion and visitors may therefore find it helpful to review this section of this website.

Identify Students At-Risk

Campuses can implement screening and identification strategies to determine those students at-risk for compromised mental health or wellness.

Encourage Help-Seeking Behaviors and Reduce Stigma

To promote student help-seeking, campus outreach can focus on educating students about mental health and reducing stigma or negative attitudes towards people with mental illness.

Provide Mental Health Services

Campus administrators can work to provide sufficient mental health services in order to diagnose and connect students to appropriate treatment services and resources.

Establish and Follow Crisis Management Procedure

Campus officials should consider devising and implementing policies and strategies directed towards students who experience extreme levels of distress.

Restrict Potentially Lethal Means

Institutions of higher education must make every possible attempt to limit student access to potential sites and agents that can facilitate self-harm or suicide attempts.

Encourage Life Skills Development

All campus members can strive to provide students with skills that can assist them as they face various challenges in both school and life.

Promote Social Networks

Campus officials can implement policies and strategies designed to strengthen relationships between students and foster a sense of community on campus.

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