A young man’s death by suicide startled entire Arizona in 1998. He was a sophomore at the University of Arizona. During that time, schools and colleges were short of mental health help and guidance. The entire country was struggling to reach out to students who were suffering from depression, anxiety, and other serious mental health problems.
Forward to today, as the current pandemic interferes and produces significant anxiety and stress to each of our daily lives, it has undoubtedly aggravated prevailing mental health problems among old and young people, a lot of whom have had to crawl to return to their homes or even find homes after abrupt campus lockdowns that needed adapting quickly to homeschooling or distance learning tools and settings. This is truly a devastating shift for students. But the ways that people from college communities reach out to each other during these times can definitely help deal with this young generation’s mental health, subsequently facilitating to lower the risks of suicide.
Solitude and seclusion – both of which can increase in this period of required physical distancing – are relevant risk factors for mental wellness challenges, along with suicidal behavioral patterns. Studies have shown that strong supportive connections and feelings of togetherness to fellow students, friends, family members, and teachers are efficient defensive factors that can significantly reduce the risk for self-harm and improve emotional wellness.
University programs worldwide have worked with schools to help them utilize an evidence-based strategy for suicide prevention and mental health improvement. This strategy may play a vital role in developing a culture of compassion and a safety net for students’ mental health. It entails establishing mental health as a top priority and executing an interdisciplinary leadership group that comprises students, teachers, and administrators. This group manages the progress and expansion of a broad plan for supporting students’ mental health and decreasing the risks for suicide and substance abuse.
More and more students are currently remotely engaged and are continually doing so throughout the end of the year, perhaps beyond this year. It is crucial to implement additional methods of creating effective approaches for student learning and mental health maintenance and improvement.
We suggest that universities and colleges aim to:
Encourage Social Bonds. The requirement for physical distancing doesn’t literally mean the loss of social connections. Teach the students to cultivate their friendships and keep in close contact remotely with their schoolmates and classmates. Some channels for building social bonds may include online study partners and study groups. Students may stay connected with their clubs and online networks and even join college-launched online social events. Teachers may also be there to support the students remotely.
Identify Who Are At Risk. Schools must recognize which students are at risk of having mental health conditions or suicidal behaviors. When keeping in touch with students through phone, text, email, or social media platforms, teachers and administrators can implement active listening concepts. If a student states a concern, be there to listen on all three levels – what the issue is about, how they are actually feeling, and how they respond to the situation. Ensure that teachers and students know where to go if they happen to identify fellow students who have developed depression or frustration. Additionally, schools can provide tips and recommendations to families on how they will know if their kids are in need of mental health support.
Improve On Help-Finding Behaviors. Young students who require help but are hesitant or uncertain about getting it might find it harder now to find support and get the care they need. In this unfamiliar environment, counseling facilities can launch virtual discussion clusters (also known as e-counseling), particularly for students, so they can have a go-to if they want to talk about something that’s worrying them.
School faculty and other staff can also keep track and reply to posts that college students share on social media. Encourage students to bond and connect online. This will allow them to share their questions and feelings that faculty members might not respond to right away.
Are you worried about a student? Don’t hesitate to ask him through a private message. “Are you feeling fine?” Find a specific reason why you are asking the question, like, “You seem unusually quiet today.” You should also know which agencies or groups to refer students who need support or other types of help. Also, make sure that these students know where to go or whom to call when they feel anxious, worried, or afraid that they might harm themselves.
Taking this mental health crisis in a broader scope will help develop a protective space for struggling students to live through these current difficulties. Mental health should be everyone’s concern, most especially now that we adapt to the fast-changing circumstances.