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One of the Campus Prevention Network’s primary goals is to highlight organizations that are engaging in research on the critical issues prevention professionals face in promoting health and wellness on campus. One clear challenge emerging is the mental health and well-being of students. For example:

  • One in eight students entering college in 2016 self-reporting in a recent national survey that they feel “depressed ‘frequently’ in the past year,” and,
  • Over half of students in another recent national study self-reporting that within the past two weeks they felt “overwhelmed by all they had to do” and
  • More than a quarter of students in the same study reported that they felt “overwhelming anxiety” in the past two weeks.

Clearly, the national picture reflects what may campus practitioners have been noting for some time: student mental health service demands have surged in the past five years and many campuses have struggled to address that demand. As an example, the 2016  Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors (AUCCCD) survey reports that over 35% of the counseling centers for public colleges and universities maintained waitlists for their services.

Beyond that, while we’re learning more every day about our students’ mental health needs, there is still much to learn about the mental and emotional well-being of our students, how we can effectively support the continued thriving of students who are emotionally and mentally well, and strategies to develop critical coping and resiliency skills in all of our students.

The Campus Prevention Network invited one of our partner organizations, Healthy Minds Network, to discuss how they’re seeking to fill these gaps in our knowledge about student mental health and well-being.

CPN: What are the goals of the Healthy Minds Network?

HMN: The Healthy Minds Network for Research on Adolescent and Young Adult Mental Health (HMN) is dedicated to improving the mental and emotional wellbeing of young people through innovative, multidisciplinary scholarship. Based out of the University of Michigan, HMN takes a public health approach and focuses on three main objectives:

(1) producing knowledge through research; (2) distributing knowledge through dissemination and; (3) using knowledge through practice.

The main tool in achieving these objectives is the Healthy Minds Study (HMS), which has been fielded at over 150 schools across North America.

HMS is an annual web-based survey examining mental health and related issues and service utilization among random samples of undergraduate and graduate students on participating campuses. Colleges and universities tailor their HMS survey by choosing 2 elective modules, in addition to the 3 core modules automatically included at each campus. Up to 10 custom questions can also be added.

CPN: A lot of institutions of higher education already collect some data on student mental health through other means, like the National Collegiate Health Assessment, campus climate surveys, or other instruments. How does HMN add to this existing data stream without creating confusing duplication?

HMN: The Healthy Mind Survey is the only annual survey of college students with a primary focus on mental health and related issues, providing substantial detail in this area. The study has a special emphasis on understanding service utilization and help-seeking behavior, including factors such as stigma, knowledge, and the role of peers and other potential gatekeepers.

Over 150 schools across the U.S. and abroad have gained valuable insight regarding the mental health and experiences of students on their campus and so we are able to draw upon data insights from over 175,000 respondents over the past decade.

CPN: What are you learning about student mental health?

HMN: We strongly encourage schools to use to campus-specific data to inform their prevention efforts, and in planning student outreach and engagement efforts related to mental health. Local data is also essential in making a strong business case for increasing student mental health resources, and in planning for the deployment of mental health resources and services on campus. Below is just a snapshot of important trends from HMS data that support data-driven decision making on campus:

  • About one in four college students have apparent depression, while about one in five have apparent anxiety. These estimates are based on validated screening tools that have been widely used.
  • Students with depression are two times more likely to drop out of college than their peers without depression.
  • About one-third of college students has an apparent mental health problem, yet almost two-thirds of that group do not receive treatment.
  • There is significant variation of mental health prevalence and treatment rates across different college campuses.
  • Less than half of students feel that their health and wellbeing is part of their school’s mission, while only about one-third feel that their administration listens to students’ concerns regarding health and wellness. These numbers vary considerably by campus, however.

CPN: How can an institution participate in HMS?

HMN: The Healthy Minds Survey is currently enrolling colleges and universities for the 2017-2018 academic year. Institutions are encouraged to enroll their campus in the Healthy Minds Study by filling out the online enrollment form or emailing healthyminds@umich.edu.

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