A student’s time spent at college can be some of the most challenging and rewarding years of their life. As a graduating senior at Siena College, I have had this experience personally, and found that a large part of my success has depended on how healthy I am. This isn’t just physical health, though being ill at school doesn’t help. The mental health of students contributes not only to their success, but to their ability to recognize that success. Mental health, though often seen as health of the mind, affects every part of a student’s whole person wellness.
Mental health is so significant in the health of a college student, and yet it has been steadily declining for decades. This decline is happening in students prior to stepping foot on a college campus, as elementary, middle and high school have their own challenges. Higher education, though, is in a unique position to act as a safety net. Colleges and universities can catch students who need specific support in order to succeed.
Some institutions are taking action, starting new campaigns and crafting creative strategies, while others seem to be waiting for a catalytic event to inspire their involvement. Schools should not wait for something terrible to happen in order to make a change that could have prevented it. At the very least, raising awareness, creating opportunities for students to get help, and making changes big and small, can improve the quality of a student’s life, as well as the quality of their college experience, significantly.
At most, these actions can result in the saving of a life. Since its founding in 2018, I have been working closely with the Siena College Office of Health Promotion to provide education, outreach and connection for students struggling in any area of their whole person wellness: body, mind and soul. I believe that the time a student spends at college should prepare them, not just for their career, but for their life.
I hope to shed light on resources being implemented across the United States of America to address the mental health crisis growing across college campuses. Drawing information from those who have studied the past and what led us to this crisis, the researchers analyzing the work being done today and its effectiveness, and my own personal experiences, I answer the following questions: What is the current state of student mental well-being on college campuses? What actions need to be taken in order for it to be improved, nationally and specifically in Siena College?
The main point of my thesis developed into an argument that peer to peer support, distributed along with other resources through a three tiered public health model. The first tier is a universal, preventative group of resources that help to define the health culture on a college campus and educate students, raising awareness passively. The second tier is more targeted, focusing on supporting students in specific struggles through small group opportunities and campus events. The third tier is made of individualized, intensive resources that are made to serve those students with more severe mental health challenges over a longer period of time.
There will never be enough professionals to provide adequate and effective support for every student. However, by supporting students using the three tiered model schools have the potential to provide resources for students experiencing different severities of challenges while protecting the individualized intensive resources for those students that need them. This prevents an overflow of students using these top tier resources when they could be receiving adequate support from other areas.
With just a few pages left and my thesis defense less than two weeks away, I am so excited about what I created and the potential it has to educate and inspire change that could not only change lives, but save them.