Author: Chris Mihin, CBC, Vice President and Managing Principal
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for counseling services at the nation’s colleges and universities was high. One study found that requests for counseling services increased by 40% from 2015 to 2020. In that same timeframe, the increase in students struggling with suicidal thoughts increased by more than 400%. That leaves a vast and troubling gap in campus health services.
The strains and stresses of 2020 led to even more students seeking mental health services from their campus. More than two-thirds of college students say they are struggling with mental health today, yet less than 25% are directly seeking out care. Instead, many confide in their professors when they need help, shifting some mental anguish to them. Two in 10 professors said supporting students experiencing mental or emotional distress took a toll on their own mental health this past year.
Is your campus adjusting to address the increasing need for more accessible mental and emotional health services?
What Can Your Campus Do About Mental Health Needs?
Too often, students are either nervous or hesitant about opening up on their mental health needs or try to seek help but hit barriers along the way. A recent Student Voice survey conducted by Kaplan found students said they were “sent in circles” with conflicting information from professors and campus health services. Others were frustrated with the strict 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. service hours as many experience mental health crises outside of that designated timeframe.
You have a lot to think about as students return to campus this fall and improving mental health resources should be one of the significant areas you address. With limited funds to hire on-campus counselors and not every student on your student health insurance program, it can be challenging to improve access to these services. That’s where telemed can, if done correctly, be a dynamic solution for you and your campus.
How Digital Mental Health Tools Can Help: Togetherall
Digital mental health tools offer a host of benefits: they get students in touch with someone the moment they need them, they’re easier to access, they remove any stigma aound going to a counselor’s office and they allow professionals to triage outreach effectively. We recently talked with Matthew McEvoy, Senior VP and General Manager for North America at digital mental health provider, Togetherall, about how online mental health services can bring students the immediate help they need while remaining personal and human.
What is Togetherall and how does it serve higher ed?
Togetherall is a digital, peer-to-peer mental health community. It’s a safe place for students to share and gain support on difficult mental and emotional health experiences by connecting with others in similar situations. The community is monitored by licensed and registered mental health practitioners 24/7 and serves over 250 institutions in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K, reaching large state schools, small community colleges, and everything in between.
What sort of impact do you see on Togetherall campuses?
Students sight the anonymity and low barrier to entry as the main reasons why they engage with the service. Students only need a valid .edu email address to sign-up and they get connected with other students in the Togetherall community. We’ve seen especially high participation for historically underserved populations of students – Black, indigenous, LGBTQ+, Latinx, to name a few. It’s helpful for these students to connect with people who share their backgrounds and experience.
Overall, 90% of students say using Togetherall has improved their wellbeing. We know the 18-24 age range is when most people experience the first onset of mental and emotional health concerns, so it makes sense that connecting with people in that same experience would help. Campus faculty and other staff also report positive impacts. We train on-campus counselors, residence staff, coaches and others who regularly interact with students around how to use Togetherall and how to make a referral to our community. Many counselors and other mental health professionals use Togetherall as part of treatment plans for additional support when a student is experiencing significant stress.
How can students connect and how do you monitor discussions?
Students can connect one-on-one, in a small group or large group setting. It’s up to them where they feel most comfortable. They start by searching for an area where they need help such as, “Coming back to campus” or “Test anxiety,” and are directed to options of joining an existing group or creating their own. Once in a group, they can form their own space to talk if they find one or two people they really connect with.
We have licensed clinicians monitoring conversations at all times, with the help of technology, to flag for concerning topics. If a conversation shows a student is approaching or in crisis, our counselors intervene, offer immediate support and connect the student with existing campus or after-hours interventions right away. Whom they are connected with and how depends on what each campus has in place and we work closely with them to ensure a student gets help the moment they need it.
What would you say to a campus health and wellness administrator or service provider considering Togetherall?
I’d say it’s a great tool to reach more students and provide more help before a crisis occurs. The anonymity of the service is especially appealing to students who are accessing mental and emotional health services for the first time and the low barrier to entry makes them more likely to use the service. There is great power in connection and seeing your struggles in someone else. That solidarity can be very healing for students and help them better manage a stressful situation knowing someone like them did, too.
Let HORAN Campus Health Get Your Campus Connected
Togetherall is one of many excellent mental health telemed resources you can bring to improve your campus health services. At HORAN Campus Health, we are always looking for the most effective ways to improve your campus health, getting your campus the best health and wellness resources, thanks to our proprietary partnerships.
Let us quickly guide you to the best options for your unique campus community: fill out a simple contact form or get in touch with Chris Mihin, HORAN Campus Health Solutions, Vice President and Managing Principal, at ChrisM@horanassoc.com or 513.702.3707.