Why your campus should invest in mental and emotional wellness programs |
Wellness programming – through positive psychology, mindfulness, and self-compassion – is the missing piece of the puzzle to the college mental health crisis.
There’s no shortage of alarming statistics showing how many young adults, ages 18-24, are struggling with their mental health, from depression to debilitating stress and anxiety to serious thoughts of suicide. Colleges and organizations alike recognize that there has been a growing mental health crisis on campus for quite some time (long before the COVID pandemic was introduced). However, the approach to addressing these issues has been reactive at best, and often treated the problem without trying to prevent it from occurring from the start.
This approach mimics traditional models of psychology and therapy that focus on what is wrong with a person and help them get back to basics once a problem already exists. We need to proactively support college students in learning the tools and skills they need to deal with the inevitable adversity they will face in college and in life. I believe this is the crucial missing piece of the college mental health crisis puzzle, and it starts with proactive mental and emotional wellness programming rooted in positive psychology, mindfulness, and self-compassion. These fields have been shown to have positive effects on college students and increase their wellbeing.
Positive psychology is the application of psychological research about human thriving and optimal functioning to help people live engaged, meaningful, and fulfilling lives. College students who report higher levels of optimism and emotional well-being – two aspects of positive psychology – enjoy college more and report greater satisfaction with their college experience.
Mindfulness is purposeful, non-judgmental attention to the present moment in oneself and in the outside world. College students with higher levels of mindfulness experience less stress in response to academic stressors and use less defensive, more effective coping strategies. Mindfulness training has also been shown to have a positive impact on a student’s transition to college.
Self-compassion is the ability to forgive, encourage, and motivate yourself when struggling with feelings of personal failure or inadequacy. Self-compassionate students are more likely to respond constructively to academic setbacks, retain their motivation and sense of competence, and perceive their mistakes as opportunities for potential growth.
It is unrealistic to hope that no student will experience a mental disorder. In fact, 50% of people will have a mental health disorder at some point in their life, most of which will occur during college age. It is also important to note that mental and emotional wellness programs are not a cure for mental disorders, but they can act as a buffer against what is considered normal struggles, and hopefully can help contain the effects of those struggles before they end Reaching point of need. It is also naive to believe that every college student is profoundly influenced by mental and emotional wellness programs, but the same can be said of all subjects taught in college. Some students love the humanities while others despise the subject. This does not mean that the humanities are not a compulsory subject for all students as part of their general curriculum. The same logic should be applied in the area of ”life skills”.
A requirement for all incoming students before entering a college campus is participation in alcohol and drug education programs and sexual misconduct prevention training. Why is there no compulsory training to be mentally, socially and emotionally successful as a student? Why are we taking a preventive approach to drug / alcohol abuse and sexual assault, but a reactive approach to mental health, only teaching students what to look out for when they or their colleagues are already going through a crisis?
If we are really to resolve the mental health crisis that is plaguing universities, we must invest in training college students how to take care of themselves and how to deal with the exams and difficulties before they do appear. Not only do we need to provide college students with information about what to do if they / their friends are in need, but we also need to focus on helping college students avoid this point of need in the first place.
Simone Figueroa is the co-founder and president of U-Thrive Educational Services, an organization that provides mental and emotional wellness programs to college students to help them cope with stress, become more resilient, and thrive throughout their college years and beyond be.In #highered, student mental health efforts often revolve around treating the problem, not trying to prevent it. We must proactively help college students deal with inevitable adversity in college and in life.Click to tweet