What to Do When Back-to-School Means Back-to-Stress

Whether it’s the first time or the fourth, heading off to college can be a time of excitement. For many, the exhilaration of new beginnings can be tinged – or flooded – with stress and anxiety. And that’s in a normal year. This year’s back-to-school experience promises to be anything but. 

Join our new workshop for college students – details below.

On top of the ongoing climate crisis, the triad of crises marking 2020 – the coronavirus pandemic, economic hardships, and the national reckoning with racial injustice – has led to a marked increase in psychological distress in the nation’s youth. That’s according to a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine on college students’ well-being. The response, it said, requires “campus-wide culture change.” 

“There’s been an alarming increase in the incidence of depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems, substance use, and experience of stress among the nation’s college students,” said Alan Leshner, a prominent academic mental-health researcher who chaired the committee that wrote the report. Watch the video interview with Alan Leshner.

Mental Health Challenges Widespread on College Campuses

Even before the pandemic, nearly 40 percent of college and university students reported a significant mental health problem. Six in ten students reported difficulty accessing adequate care for mental health or substance use. Lacking adequate supports, students with mental health challenges are twice as likely to drop out. Educators see this first-hand, and consistently rate students’ emotional well-being as critical to their academic success in college. Administrators know it too: nearly three-quarters of university presidents say students’ mental health is a top priority. 

How can parents, communities, and educational institutions best support the well-being of their teenage and young adult college students? What do students need to not only survive, but thrive in their learning environment? What does mental health support look like in a year that is anything but normal? These are questions being asked on campuses and communities throughout the country as the fall semester approaches.

Cultivating a Culture of Well-Being at College

“Society…needs graduates who are not only well-educated but also mentally and physically healthy,” said Leshner. “No real progress will be made unless institutions decide to promote a climate that clearly values the well-being of every student.” Leshner is CEO emeritus of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and former director of the National Institute of Mental Health.

“Universities and colleges need to take a new approach to mental health challenges — changing their cultures to emphasize shared responsibility and a holistic understanding of what it means in practice to support students”, the report says. For example, faculty should be trained on how to support healthy learning environments and to recognize when students may benefit from a mental health referral, and students should be taught about habits that affect well-being and the mental health resources available to them.”

~ National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine news release, Jan. 13, 2021

In its report, the National Academies laid out five key recommendations to meet the problem at the campus level. 

  1. Articulate a culture of well-being at the institutional level and communicate it to the college community broadly and clearly.
  2. Train faculty and staff to recognize mental health problems in students and take appropriate action.
  3. Teach students well-being, in a structured and formal way that fosters understanding of mental health supports and resources. Included education on implicit bias.
  4. Improve access to care for mental health issues and substance use, on campuses and in college communities.
  5. Accommodate recovery from mental health issues or substance use so that students can return to their studies.

Read the full report from the National Academies.

Join COVID Support VT’s New Workshop for College Students

Are you getting ready to go back to school and finding yourself feeling stressed out in a world of uncertainty? Did you decide not to go to college or to take a gap year because of the pandemic and, now, are feeling worried? Are you concerned about how to manage the social scene during COVID, that you are out of practice, or that you or ones you care about might get sick? Do you want to learn how to support your mental wellness as well as the mental health of your friends and family? You are not alone. Join our new interactive workshop with other college students to learn more about skills for managing this confusing time. Re-entry Workshop for College Students starts August 27 at 11 a.m. 

Learn More and Find Support for College Students

If you’re a parent of a student, join our new back-to-school workshop for parents, We Can Do This! It starts Sept. 1 at 4 p.m.

Find resources and practical guidance on Preparing for College, with or without a mental health challenge, from the Child Mind Institute.

Learn more about the National Academies consensus study report, Mental Health, Substance Use, and Wellbeing in Higher Education: Supporting the Whole Student (2021).

To learn about barriers and opportunities to increase the accessibility of higher education for students with mental health disabilities, read this new report from Mental Health America: Supporting College Students: Mental Health and Disability in Higher Education.

Blog written by Brenda Patoine on behalf of VCN/Vermont Care Partners for COVID Support Vermont, a grant funded by FEMA and the Vermont Department of Mental Health

Need to Talk?

Call 2-1-1 (in Vermont) for assistance.

In Crisis? 

If you or someone you care for is experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you can: call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-825; text VT to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor 24/7; connect with your local community mental health center for 24/7 support. 

Find Help

Find resources and tools for coping with stress at www.COVIDSupportVT.org.

One-click translation to 100 languages of most everything on the COVIDSupportVT.org website, plus Multilingual Resources.

Find your local community mental health center by visiting Vermont Care Partners.

COVID Support VT is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Federal Emergency Management Agency, managed by Vermont’s Department of Mental Health, and administered by Vermont Care Partners, a statewide network of 16 non-profit community-based agencies providing mental health, substance use, and intellectual and developmental disability services and supports. 

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