Today’s young adults in higher education increasingly need adequate mental health support and services, yet institutions face a variety of challenges in meeting those needs, according to Rhianna Goozee in a feature in Lancet Psychiatry.
“During this transitional phase of life, in which the onus is on personal growth as well as meeting new academic challenges, unsurprisingly some students will struggle,” Goozee wrote. While nearly all students who seek support receive help eventually, the quality of the experience varies considerably, she notes. “A good experience appears to depend, to some degree, on whether individual staff members are informed, sympathetic, and willing listeners.”
The increased need may reflect both a greater awareness of the importance of mental health and wellbeing as well as a real rise in the incidence of student stress and emotional difficulties. Part of this may arise from being “less well equipped to face the challenges of higher education,” according to Alan Percy, Head of Counselling Services at Oxford University, as Goozee quotes in her piece.
More students may lack the emotional resilience they need, while simultaneously needing to develop the skills to overcome failure, delay gratification, and become adaptable. Goozee also suggests that today’s young adults may lack the stability of earlier generations, even in high-income, developed societies, and therefore enter college with greater anxiety than students of decades past.
“Students aged between 18 years and 29 years might continue to explore their identity, feeling as though they have not yet left adolescence behind to achieve full adulthood,” she wrote.
Yet budget cuts and institutions’ financial challenges may complicate meeting students’ needs and require creative and innovative ways to serve students. In addition to traditional face-to-face sessions with counselors, for example, schools may add peer support services, study support, and online self-help programs.
“Indeed, online self-help could possibly be offered to all students to support development of self-agency before they reach crisis point,” Goozee wrote. “Good practice guidance is beginning to recognize use of technology to improve support for students, particularly for those with mild difficulties, allowing those with greater need to access more intensive support from student services than others.”
Goozee discussed a new online support system called MePlusMe designed specifically for higher education students that draws on psychology theory and research to offer “guided self-help, assessing psychological needs, and providing techniques to address difficulties identified,” including mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, and acceptance and commitment therapy.
“Online resources might complement and support other available support, but they are unlikely to entirely replace them,” Goozee wrote, but they can provide a “complementary alternative” to help institutions “reach more students than at present and ease the strain on overstretched services.”
Goozee R. Supporting mental health in higher education. Lancet Psychiatry. 2016; doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(16)00091-2.