You are about to leave Risk Strategies website and view the content of an external website.
You are leaving risk-strategies.com
By accessing this link, you will be leaving Risk Strategies website and entering a website hosted by another party. Please be advised that you will no longer be subject to, or under the protection of, the privacy and security policies of Risk Strategies website. We encourage you to read and evaluate the privacy and security policies of the site you are entering, which may be different than those of Risk Strategies.
The student mental health crisis doesn’t disappear after the campus clears out for the summer. While some stressors may subside when exams wrap up, key contributors to the crisis persist year-round. So, higher ed decision makers grapple with the question, “How can we best support our students over the summer?” Here are some observations, data, and ideas for educators, parents, and policymakers.
Today’s college students face a tangle of pressures. Remote learning and technology usage continue to exacerbate loneliness and feelings of inadequacy. For students who work, wages aren’t keeping up with increased housing, food, and transportation costs.
Tuition increases alone have outpaced inflation by 171% over the past 20 years. Sixty-three percent of students have jobs on top of full-time course loads. Of those, 88% are working 20 or more hours per week.
The steady news diet of climate catastrophes, mass shootings, economic turbulence, political strife, racial tension, human rights violations, and war has eroded students’ sense of safety. Young adults in earlier decades could choose to skip newspapers and TV, but today’s news headlines intrude via social media — providing a perpetual stream of concerning stories.
On top of these external factors, students still face the “regular” challenges of college life — being away from home for the first time, new social settings and pressures, having roommates, dating, learning time management skills, and struggling with challenging classes, to name just a few.
Taken together, these factors fuel anxiety and other student mental health challenges.
The 2021-2022 Healthy Minds Study revealed:
These numbers are staggering, and the issues don’t disappear when spring term ends.
Students who use mental health services on campus often do not have access to those same services during school breaks. They may also feel reluctant to seek help. Here are three common barriers:
Most higher education institutions are looking for ways to support students during times they are not on campus such as winter break, spring break, and especially over the extended summer break. Unaddressed mental health challenges can lead to student withdrawal, which negatively affects university budgets. Higher ed leaders are wrestling with the question, “Is it less expensive to fund telehealth over the summer, or pay the costs associated with student attrition?”
Telehealth can ease access and continuity issues. Often, students can find appointment availability within a couple of days, but typically within a week or two at most.
Since telehealth providers may have licensure in multiple states, it’s sometimes possible for students to continue receiving care from their therapist over the summer. Or, if an Illinois counselor can’t work with a student in Florida, a different therapist with the same telehealth company can collaborate to help provide continuity of care.
Additionally, with a large panel of telehealth counselors to choose from, students have a better opportunity to select a provider who is the best fit for their presenting issue. Further, students in communities such as BIPOC, LGBTQ+, or other groups may have an easier time finding a therapist who specializes in serving their needs.
While budget is a factor on nearly every campus, there are various ways to support mental health programs. Some institutions fund these resources through existing budgets. Others bundle telehealth with their student health insurance program (SHIP) or add a nominal health fee to cover the cost of these services.
A growing number of products seek to provide lower-cost, low friction services as a precursor to formal therapy and psychiatry. Internet cognitive behavioral therapy (iCBT), peer-to-peer support programs, and in-the-moment 24/7 counseling offer resources for students who may not require formal, ongoing counseling support. Not every student needs to start with formal therapy, and some of these resources can help if therapy is not a realistic option.
Also, a new type of coverage is starting to gain momentum: virtual primary care. This is not a formal insurance plan but provides some basic coverage such as urgent care bundled with behavioral health services, lab coverage, and covered medications at a much more affordable price than a traditional insurance plan. Introducing a program like this to all students could go a long way to ensuring everyone has access to a number of basic health services.
While nearly every school is concerned about keeping enrollment up despite increased costs, institutions care deeply about student health and wellbeing. With tuition outpacing inflation, and institutional operational costs increasing just the same, parents and students are both sensitive to fee increases, even if those fees are for mental health benefits. The perception? “You’re increasing tuition again.”
There are many great telehealth and behavioral health programs that can be customized to meet the needs of an individual institution and student body, for relatively nominal costs. When students get the support they need, when they need it, they perform better at school and will remain happy, healthy, and enrolled. School rankings improve, and this benefits everyone — the students and the institution. So, colleges and universities are asking, “Is there anything else we can do?” This is leading to innovation on campuses across the U.S.
Want to learn more?
Contact the authors at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Authors
Joe Hein works extensively with colleges and universities to tailor their student health insurance program and administration to support total health and wellbeing on campus. Joe focuses heavily on Risk Strategies Education’s telehealth and behavioral health programs to deliver the highest quality access and care to institutions of all shapes and sizes across the country.
Elizabeth (Liz) Marks works with colleges and universities to develop student health and wellness strategies to achieve student success. She helps clients with solutions that mitigate the risk related to mental health issues, such as telehealth, tuition insurance, and global emergency coverage.