gif of a heart made of open and closed books swaying over a red background

gif of a heart made of open and closed books swaying over a red background

Mental health has become a primary concern on college campuses, and the Covid-19 pandemic has only made student wellness resources more crucial.

In a June 2020 survey, telehealth provider TimelyMD found that 85% of college students reported that the pandemic had caused increased stress and anxiety and uncertainty about the future of their education. Similarly, a poll from the Beginning College Survey of Student Engagement revealed that 53% of first-year students noted a substantial increase in mental and emotional exhaustion.

Related: I struggle with anxiety. My campus’s disability services center saved my college experience.

The numbers alone insist that schools need to provide support in response to students’ new struggles and shifting lifestyles, and some have concocted innovative strategies for addressing wellness on campus.

Mind-body connection

Many schools are integrating mental health with their physical health services. Colby College’s student-run Outdoor Orientation Trips promote mental well-being through engaging with others, engaging your body and engaging with nature. The trip is mandatory for first-year students.

Duke University’s Moments of Mindfulness organization provides drum circles, guided meditations, paint nights, tai chi, tea ceremonies and yoga. Similarly, Colorado State developed a Bikram yoga program based on the school’s research about how the practice improves mental health. Ohio University’s Women's Center recently held a Self Appreciation Yoga Workshop as part of its Love Yourself Week designed to boost confidence.

Free apps and online resources

Colorado State University developed YOU at College, an app that lets students identify mental health issues and resources on campus, take self-check quizzes and access tips and tools for managing anxiety and stress. The platform also gives the college insights into mental health trends and student issues to help inform campus programming. Similarly, Cooper Union created Cooper Care, an app and online platform that provides students with all-hours access to virtual health care providers.

Then there’s Breathe, an online resource for student stress management created by Northwestern University. The app offers guided meditations and breathing exercises, while UC Berkeley provides free online tools like Accountability NEST (Networked and Engaged Social Therapeutics). Counselors moderate NEST’s message boards so students get expert guidance. The anonymous digital space promotes goal-setting and provides a group of virtual peers to hold you accountable to follow through.

Related: The paradox of self-care

IRL peer-support systems

If anything, periods of required isolation during the pandemic exacerbated feelings of loneliness in folks across the globe and in particular, students. The experience made many of us rusty when it comes to asking for support or speaking about our own problems. In March 2022, West Virginia University launched the Green Bandana Initiative. Students who completed mental health training earned green bandanas and were encouraged to wear them on campus as a signal to other students that they’re open to talking and being a source of support.

Berkeley also provides peer counseling offline with its Student-to-Student Peer Counseling program, which is made up of a group of student counselors who offer free, one-on-one walk-in services to fellow students. The group also holds weekly group therapy sessions. Similarly, Colorado State University hosts Theme Groups for discussing specific topics like trauma skills, body positivity and the trans experience, all with the intention of helping students feel supported and less alone.

Specialized services for specific groups

Last month, the State University of New York (SUNY) announced a $24 million investment in expanding its mental health and wellness services and enhancing campus resources. SUNY Potsdam is building a Diversity Mindfulness Room in its Center for Diversity, a designated safe space with mental health resources and tools specifically for BIPOC students. Its Binghamton University campus is hiring another “divisional diversity officer” to address student mental health concerns among diverse populations.

Baylor University recently shared an initiative to support mental health services specifically for student athletes. The program will include counseling services, crisis intervention, appointments with mental health professionals for athletes who experience severe injuries and more.

Related: ‘I feel lonely and stressed as a transfer student’

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