The past few years starkly highlighted the need for mental and behavioral health service coverage in a campus health insurance plan. Beginning with the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in March 2020, colleges and universities across the country have experienced unprecedented uncertainty. Classes move from virtual to in-person and back to virtual at a moment’s notice, leaving students feeling more anxious and isolated than ever.
A recent report from BestColleges.com found that 95% of undergrads said they experienced “negative mental health symptoms (due to the COVID-19 pandemic).” Those negative experiences stem from increased isolation, decreased access to mental and behavioral healthcare, and stressors around financial insecurity, among other circumstances.
Over the past decade, the rate of “depression, anxiety, and serious thoughts of suicide” has doubled among college students, a Health Minds Study found. The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated these issues. Yet, there is hope. According to the same study, student resiliency increased over the last two years. And a TimelyMD study found that more than 65% of students reached out for mental health help during the pandemic.
The need is there, and so is the desire for help. How can your campus connect student needs with your campus health insurance plan and services?
Start with Data
Campus faculty and staff don’t have the answers at their fingertips. And why would they? Their experience differs from their 18-22-year-old students, some of whom are away from home for the first time. The best way to know what your student population wants and needs is by looking at data.
Work to bring together information from counseling centers, campus health insurance claims, and student surveys, among other areas. Quantity matters in your data; the more diverse student perspectives you can get, the better. Incentivize students to participate in surveys by making them easy to access (i.e., online or via text), relatively short (5-10 min), and offer the chance to win a gift card or other valuable items for those that participate.
As with any health solution, there is no “one size fits all.” You have a diverse campus, so you need diversity in your mental and behavioral health services. To start, ensure you have both in-person and virtual counseling offerings for all students. Next, provide different environments: one-on-one with a counselor, group counseling, and peer counseling options are an excellent place to start. Even this small amount of variation can increase engagement with students who otherwise shied away from traditional in-person, one-on-one counseling.
Another growing mental health avenue is online, peer-led forums. These forums are a low commitment yet high-impact way for students to connect, share their stressors and struggles, and support each other in managing their mental and emotional health. Innovative options like this tend to attract students who wouldn’t otherwise engage in mental health services, providing an avenue to minimize treatment stigma and access management tactics to improve their mental well-being.
A variety of options is essential, but different access points also matter. Although some students actively seek the care they need, most don’t. Given the statistics around mental and behavioral health on campuses, it’s safe to assume all students need some level of mental health support. Yet, students often report they don’t know where to go if they or someone they know needs help.
Combat these barriers to care by publicizing campus services in various ways. Send regular emails, post flyers in high-traffic areas on campus, send texts and set up frequent booths in common areas like cafeterias to publicize offerings. Student organizations can also be great advocates, holding special events and sharing information with their members about ongoing mental health services.
When properly informed, faculty and staff are also fantastic advocates and communication sources. Professors can add information about mental and behavioral health services to syllabi or devote half or full class periods to discussing services on campus. Coaches and student advisors can post information in weight rooms and meeting spaces and make a point of discussing services multiple times throughout the year.
No matter how accessible you make mental health services on campus, insufficient insurance coverage creates a substantial barrier. Ensure your Student Health Insurance Plan covers in-person and virtual mental and emotional health services at a significant enough level to impact student health positively. If your plan doesn’t provide direct coverage, talk with a consultant to offer supplemental coverage accessible to students at all income levels.
College and university campuses are naturally de-centralized organizations. While this is beneficial for freedom of operation among departments, it poses a challenge in gaining accurate students data and disseminating information. Acquiring data from a patchwork of departments is time-consuming, but data integration is exceptionally valuable in understanding the complete picture of your campus needs. Similarly, coordinating communication can be challenging, but a consistent message and centralized location for information are vital to student accessibility.
A partner like HORAN Campus Health can help you coordinate and centralize your campus’ mental health service approach. Creating a standard data-gathering system and establishing a centralized group to manage data aggregation, analysis, and implementation can make a huge impact. We work with colleges and universities to establish and equip internal champions to make progress and rally whole campuses around a common goal.
Plus, we have proprietary partnerships and personalized strategies to get the best solutions for your campus. Let the HORAN Campus Health team open new avenues for mental and behavioral health options and advocate for you in discovering the best solutions for your campus community.
Fill out a simple contact form or get in touch with Chris Mihin, HORAN Campus Health Vice President and Managing Principal, at ChrisM@horanassoc.com or 513.702.3707 to find out more.