Mental Health in Higher Education: Advancing Adversity: Part One

(Foothill College)

 

Mental health in college is a top concern that has escalated even more during the Covid-19 pandemic. The mental health crisis is affecting everyone. However, it is disproportionately affecting Black students, who comprise approximately 45 percent of college undergraduates. These students are reportedly among the least likely to seek help.

According to The Steve Fund Crisis Response Task Force Report (PDF), 26 percent of Black students, 33 percent of Latino students, and 23 percent of Asian American students sought treatment for mental health concerns compared to 46 percent of their White classmates.  The Steve Fund is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the mental and emotional well-being of students of color.

Most students feel emotionally and mentally overwhelmed and yet they find it difficult to ask for help. Some believe they will be exposed and will become vulnerable. Some find it hard to express how they truly feel to someone face-to-face.

To help with this problem, digitalization and online platforms such as Togetherall have come to the rescue. Togetherall is an anonymous online peer-to-peer mental health support network moderated by licensed mental health practitioners,

Colleges and universities including Foothill College, Georgia State University, Rasmussen College, and the University of South Florida which have been offering free access to Togetherall to their students as an online alternative to individual counseling appointments have reported positively about the experience. They have said that due to the anonymous nature of the online platform it attracts a diverse set of students, making it much easier for them to share their concerns.

Institutions have found that such diversity of users on the Togetherall platform includes not only diversity in race but also in terms of age and gender, with 22 percent of student users over the age of 25, 4.5 percent identifying as neither male nor female, and 40 percent identifying as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and Other People of Color).

Toward a normalized campus community

According to a whitepaper published by Togetherall, exploring how lockdown and isolation has affected students can help institutions support the students’ mental health while transiting toward a normalized campus community in 2021 and beyond. 

Anxiety and depression are significantly affecting the 18 to 24 age group. Anxiety and depression put them at greater risk for mental health issues. There is a recurrence of students who may not look isolated but can suffer from isolation just as much as someone who is physically alone.

According to Togetherall’s report, some of the general changes that the pandemic has brought about for college students include:

  • Interruption of normal connections
  • Lack of routine
  • Removal of traditional coping mechanisms
  • Diminished levels of physical activity
  • The increased cognitive demand virtual platforms place on students
  • Health anxiety
  • The safety and wellbeing question mark

When and if life will ever feel safe again brings an overwhelming great anxiety. Supporting student mental health is paramount toward a normalized campus community. By providing students with different ways to remain connected with each other, counselors, and faculty will help combat isolation issues.

Next week, Fierce Education will dive in conversation with Foothill College to learn about how their use of Togetherall became a success in helping students navigate their mental health shadows toward a brighter horizon.