An article recently published by InsideHigherEd sheds some light on the ongoing struggle to balance instant response and referral for high-risk students with ongoing counselling and support. As the article points out, limitations related to financial cost and shortage of personnel, coupled with a growing demand for services, has generated a need for triage systems and waiting lists within campus mental health centers.
So Long, Stigma
Since 2010, post-secondary students have increasingly sought out mental health support at rates that far exceed academic enrolment. The silver lining in these growing numbers is that awareness campaigns appear to be making an impact. As the stigma surrounding mental illness continues to chip away, students are becoming more attune to their mental health and well-being, and better informed on when and where to access help.
High-Tech Meets High-Touch
High-touch is the Yin to high-tech’s Yang when it comes to student engagement and success. The efficiency and mobility of technology is great and all, but it’s ability to connect us with meaningful interactions is where it’s true value lies. The provision of immediate support removes the constraints of time and location when connecting students with qualified mental health professionals. An increasing number of post-secondary institutions are implementing 24-hour telephone hotlines, which allow high-risk students to receive immediate assessment and referral. However, prioritizing these instant response services over ongoing counselling essentially leads students through a doorway to inadequate support. Without the promise of a well-trained listener and source of consolation available to them on the other side, how much are they going to benefit from gaining immediate access, or access at all for that matter?
An Ongoing Balancing Act
Balancing instant response with ongoing counselling services is a hot-button issue among campus mental health centres. The need for awareness and accessibility is as important as ever, but not at the expense of follow-up and ongoing treatment. Seeking out ways to provide earlier intervention and proactive support to at-risk students, thereby minimize strain on instant-response services, is a productive first step. Inviting students to provide feedback on the aspects of student life that are most stressful for them and how they would like to be supported could be a great approach to improving existing campus services and provoking greater mental health awareness.
Providing students with a safe space to receive counselling on a regular basis is important.
Making sure that students can access instantaneous support in crisis situations is equally so.
Developing student-centric solutions that are both high-tech and high-touch is key to effectively balancing both of these initiatives.