College students are bringing a new generation of thoughtfulness to campuses with each returning year. Their empathy levels are higher than previous generations, feeling more responsibility to help those who are struggling. They are also engaging in less risky behavior than years past-- for instance, they are more likely to wear a seatbelt, and less likely to engage in high-risk drinking. They are also leading the way in breaking down mental health stigma in that they are more likely to discuss the topic than college students past.
However, these positive changes also come concerning trends: this generation reports higher levels of loneliness than any other generation, 1 in 3 have a diagnosed mental health condition, and 7% have seriously considered suicide in the last year. These students also report being considerably more likely to go to their friends for support when dealing with these issues, while only 3% actually seek out counselors for help.
This last trend can leave students feeling unsure of how to best support a friend or a peer who may be struggling with their mental health. In an effort to reduce stigma, promote awareness, and provide opportunities for students to speak openly about their mental health, many schools are turning proactively seeking opportunities to engage students around the issues of Mental Health.
World Mental Health Day is October 10th and it is an ideal opportunity to start, or continue, a pro-active conversation about mental health with your campus population. There are many ways your campus can get involved to help raise awareness of mental health issues. Here are a few WMHD ideas and suggestions:
Though the quippy Parks and Rec adage of “Treat Yo Self” goes well above and beyond the average self-care routine, the ability to care for your mind, body, and self is just as important as giving back to others. Tap into this by hosting WMHD activities that showcase all of the ways that students can invest in their self-care; consider highlighting things like intramural sports, fitness classes and facilities, nutritional resources, yoga classes, meditation workshops, counseling, resource groups, and all the other incredible opportunities on campus for students to engage in activities that promote well-being. To really kick it up a notch, consider partnering with a local spa or massage school to offer chair massages, or connect with a local resource that offers therapy animals.
For some students, the scariest part of seeking help is logistics. How do I get to the Counseling Center? How do I make an appointment? Will everyone see me in the waiting room? Can I pick my counselor? Answering these questions in a safe, fun, open environment breaks down the wall of anxiety that may be associated with taking that first step to seek help. Having a pizza party, a scavenger hunt or a simple “our doors are open today” that invites students to explore and understand their options.
Host a 5K run where students, faculty, staff, and other campus community members can walk, jog, or run 3.1 miles around campus to raise awareness for mental health. Exercise is a great way to improve physical health as well as mental health. End the race with a cookout, pizza party, ice cream social, or any other type of gathering to bring the campus community together on this day. You can also auction off prizes, raffles, play games, etc. Encourage each participant to fundraise by creating a fundraising page when they register and inviting friends and family to support their World Mental Health Day run/walk! All proceeds can be donated to a mental health organization of the campus' choice, or to improve their own local mental health services.
Partner with your Resident Assistants to infuse mental wellness throughout your living communities. Consider doing a “positive post-it” campaign in the bathrooms, where residents can leave positive affirmations for one another on the wall. Or, use a bulletin board to create a “Need a Hand” wall that outlines all the resources and events that students have available on campus when they’re struggling. Print and hand out free coloring sheets for students to take and color. Encourage them to hang their completed pages in the gathering spaces of their dorms. Additionally, consider hosting a movie screening of a WMHD themed film (for example, “Happy” or “Inside Out”) with a discussion to follow.
With so many more students seeking out their friends vs. professional help, preparing your students to handle these more difficult situations can make all the difference. As part of World Mental Health Day, consider hosting a certification course or day-long workshop that gives students training on how to help their friends through difficult times, and, especially, how-to guide them towards professionals when needed. Pro Tip: If your school is using Vector Solutions' (formerly Everfi's Campus Prevention Network) “Mental Well-Being for Students” course, you can contact students who have raised their hand within the course to say they’d like to get more involved in promoting mental health on campus in your Student Engagement portion. Reach out to these students as your first cohort of student ambassadors!
In advance of the big day, gather various stakeholders on your campus and use it as a chance to highlight the role that everyone plays in supporting student mental health. See if faculty will integrate a mental health reading into their syllabi. Put conversation cards on the tables in your dining hall to encourage students to talk about mental well-being. Explore other ways that you can infuse the spirit of mental well-being throughout your campus community.
When it’s all said and done, it is important to remember that World Mental Health Day is just that-- one day. The best efforts are those that promote awareness and set the tone for the ongoing efforts that your institution is already putting forth. By using this day as an opportunity to engage community members in dialogue, you can be that much more prepared to continue the conversation as the year goes on.
Sources: i-Gen, Dr. Jean Twenge; Healthy Minds Network; National Center for Educational Statistics; National Alliance on Mental Health