According to the WHO, there has been a 13% rise in mental health issues worldwide over the last decade. In fact, around 20% of the world’s children and adolescents now have a mental health condition.
So, with the COVID-19 pandemic recently increasing feelings of isolation and loneliness, the mental health crisis is worsening.
At Elon University, Charlotte Williams, the associate director of Campus Recreation and Wellness for Student Wellness, said the number of students seeking some sort of mental or emotional assistance has greatly increased.
“Prior to COVID-19, it was 30% of students seeking help,” said Williams. “Now post-COVID-19, that number is up to 60% or even 70%. When you consider identity into that equation, and you think about students who are marginalized in any way, those numbers are going to be even greater.”
Elsewhere at Utah State University (USU), Katie Burns, the associate director of Campus Recreation, said they are witnessing similar high demand for mental health programs and services.
“We find students seeking support for a wide range of mental health needs and struggles from food insecurities and body dysmorphia to depression, suicidal ideation, stress and anxiety,” said Burns. “As a Campus Recreation department, we have worked to address these needs through services that partner with other offices on campus to reach the most students possible.”
Specifically, body dysmorphia is one issue Burns said is worsening for students. In fact, she said USU has seen an 18% increase in the number of students who have reported struggling with eating disorders over the last two years.
EXTRA CREDIT: How campus recreation can positively influence mental health.
“More and more students say they are finding it necessary to take a break from social media as they are slowly recognizing it contributes to their imposter syndrome and, at times, to a sense of failure because of the body comparison game they are playing,” said Burns. “Also, students express deep concern and anxiety around current events and the continued challenges of the economy. For many students, it creates anxiety about their longterm goals and hopes.”
At Elon, Williams said safety, suicide prevention and awareness, and sleep come to mind when asked to detail the current concerns of students.
“These are really the forefront issues,” said Williams. “Sleep is a really challenging issue for college students. One of the challenges is getting students to unpack and use their words. It’s easy to use stress as a scapegoat for adults. But what is it when you really peel back the layers? It’s about prioritizing and determining what is important for you in your life’s design.”
To better combat the issues, Elon’s Health Promotion program folded into Campus Recreation. After that move, the department was structured into five areas:
- Sport Programs and Intramurals
- Experiential Learning and Outdoor Adventures
- Health Education
Jenny Larson, the associate director of Campus Recreation and Wellness for Recreation Programs and Facilities at Elon, said utilizing these larger programs has helped push forward the conversation around mental health.
“For example, club sports have really opened up that conversation,” said Larson. “Our baseball team has been big mental health advocates on campus. Utilizing student organizations is important. We have 27 different sport clubs and around 1,000 student participants. Being able to merge the mental health conversation from the health promotion aspect with our student employees has normalized that conversation.”
EXTRA CREDIT: Creative mental health collaborations.
Larson said the 250 student employees in Campus Recreation are the department’s largest resource and strongest advocates on campus as they are on the frontlines of what students are facing.
At Boston College (BC) Campus Rec, Ryan Ericson, the Marketing and Communications manager, said they strive to partner with as many organizations on campus as possible to promote mental health initiatives.
One example Ericson cited was when Campus Rec connected with the BC Women’s Center to offer group fitness classes celebrating body positivity and mindful movement during Love Your Body Week.
“We have our Resources for Well-being webpage that provides students with access to mental health resources, mindfulness activities, sleep tips, self-care ideas and more,” said Ericson. “Additionally, members of our professional staff are currently undergoing QPR Suicide Prevention Gatekeeper Training to recognize warning signs of distress and to learn the best practices of how to question, persuade and refer someone who may be suicidal.”
Ericson said Campus Rec demonstrates its commitment to mental health by partnering with the Center for Student Wellness on campus. Through this partnership, they are better able to encourage, promote and support students’ well-being through continued mental health education and resources.
At Elon, helpful resources include:
- TimelyMD which is a student-centered platform offering on-demand access to mental health and medical care and a diverse, culturally competent provider network.
- Kognito — a software company providing strategies to improve mental health and well-being — for first-year students to better acclimate to campus.
EXTRA CREDIT: An outlook on the mental health crisis.
At USU, Burns said they pay a subscription for Calendly software to send reminders to participants of their Work Out Your Mind program and to send follow-up surveys. In addition, Fusion is in place for all event registrations.
“We also use TrulaCampus,” said Burns. “This is on-demand, peer-to-peer coaching for students. Student coaches are trained through Trula. They have clear guidelines on things they can help with and how they need to refer students to professional help. The program is helpful to set and achieve goals. It really serves as a frontline resource for students before they develop larger mental health concerns.”
Work Out Your Mind is one mental health program Burns said is seeing a strong response. Also, by partnering with Counseling and Psychological Services, students can meet with staff members to exercise and talk.
While not an official counseling session, the goal is to:
- Remove any barriers for students seeking the help they need.
- To create a buddy for those who don’t want to work out alone.
Registrations have been full. Plus, Burns said USU Campus Rec is now looking for ways to expand the initiative.
“My simple advice is to remember you don’t have to go at it alone,” said Burns. “With the mental health crisis being a national discussion, there are many offices and departments on your campus seeking ways to start or improve mental health programs. Share resources, share ideas and work together. Mental health matters, and it is going to require all the resources we have to support students.”
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