Colleges must play larger role in improving student mental health, report finds
Colleges and universities should take more responsibility for students’ mental health — not just by providing more counselors, but by improving campus culture and climate overall, according to a report released today.
At least 60% of college students said they experienced mental health challenges in 2021, due in part to hostile politics, violence, wealth disparities and other factors, the report found. But a significant source of stress originates from the college itself. Financial worries, social isolation, a competitive culture, prejudice and discrimination on campus and under-staffed counseling centers all contribute to student depression and anxiety.
“I wasn’t surprised by the findings, but I was surprised that there’s been very little discussion about institutional responsibility in addressing mental health issues,” said report co-author Samuel Museus, an ethnic studies professor at UC San Diego and director of the National Institute for Transformation and Equity. “We have a responsibility to cultivate a more supportive campus culture.”
The report, “Degrees of Distress: How higher education institutions hurt and help student mental health,” was published by the College Futures Foundation, a nonprofit focused on increasing college graduation rates among underrepresented students in California. The report is based on a review of several hundred studies and analyses of mental health among college students. Lindsay Pérez Huber, education professor at Cal State Long Beach, was Museus’ co-author.
Among other things, the report recommends:
- Promoting self-care, including good sleep, nutrition, exercise, mindfulness, spirituality, gratitude and mutual aid.
- Improving students’ connections to their home communities.
- Providing culturally relevant curricula, campus art and spaces that uplift marginalized student groups.
- Protecting and strengthening programs focused on the well-being of diverse students, such as ethnic studies.
- Diversifying counseling staffs and providing culturally relevant mental health programs.
“The general narrative of student mental health is that it’s the problem of individual students, as opposed to something that is shaped by institutions,” Museus said. “We think there’s a lot more that institutions can do to support student mental health.”
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