Mental health support for invisible students: online learners

The number of students entering college with, or experiencing, mental health issues during college is increasing. Research shows that graduate students (the population I primarily support) experience more mental health issues than the general population (Flaherty, 2018). Okanana (2018) found that 63% of Deans agreed that graduate students struggle with mental health more than five years ago. Supporting students with mental health issues is of utmost importance because these issues can impact students’ ability to perform well academically and complete their degrees (Auerbach, et al. 2018; Hartley, 2010). Further, individuals with registered mental disorders are in a protected class – therefore, reasonable accommodation and support must be provided to them.

It is no surprise, then, that counseling centers on college campuses are bursting at the seams trying to support students. But… are they supporting the growing population of online learners?

From what I can tell and have experienced in my own interactions with campus leaders across the nation, universities are not quite sure how to support this population. In fact, many are initially unaware of two added complexities of providing mental health support to online learners: first, many mental health counselors’ licenses prevent them from practicing on individuals who live out of state and, second, some states prevent therapists from practicing virtual counseling (these rules differ from state to state). Many universities are just not facing this issue at all.

But there are some solutions available for providing mental health counseling to online students:

Mental health support solutions for online learners

Betterhelp.comThis website (and others like it, such as talkspace.com) is a service which contains a repository of counselors across the United States who can provide ongoing mental health support to students. Universities can enter a contract with betterhelp.com for a set number of sessions per month for a set number of students. This could be a resource that success coaches or other student support personnel could use to refer students to as need arises.

Many campuses already use ProtoCall for after hour mental health services. This is a resource campuses can leverage for supporting online students.

Mindwise Innovations offer mental health screening online to colleges and universities. The screening process is anonymous and MindWise partners with colleges and universities to connect students to local resources.

Therapy Assistance Online [TAO] offers self-guided and interactive online modules to help students in between sessions with a therapist or as a purely self-guided educational tool.

Psychology Today is a provider locator in which students can search for therapists in their location and filter by insurance accepted and type of issue.

SAMHSA serves as a Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator in which students can enter their location and find a facility near them.

Additionally, the following resources are useful for providing remote students with health services:

Many college and university health centers use FoneMed for after-hours health services; this service provides students with triage support for their issues, possibly eliminating the need for unnecessary doctor visits. This is also a great resource for online students who can not visit the campus health center.

Teladoc and HealthiestYou

These services offer telehealth (much like FoneMed) for students with Student Health Insurance. These can be resources that support personnel can share with online students.

It is too early to say how effective these services are at supporting students, but offering something is better than nothing. It is likely that campuses will find these solutions to be innovative for supporting the ever-growing needs of on-ground students as well.

Thus, I urge college and university administrators to immediately begin exploring options so that students studying remotely have access to this important service.

I would love to hear what you do or think about providing mental health support for online learners. Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts.

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Special thanks to Quamina Carter, Dean of Students at Claremont Graduate University for sharing many of the resources listed above.                              

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References

Auerbach, R. P., Mortier, P., Bruffaerts, R., Alonso, J., Benjet, C., Cuijpers, P., … WHO WMH‐ICS collaborators (2018). The WHO World Mental Health Surveys International College Student Project: Prevalence and distribution of mental disorders. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, in press, 127, 623– 638. https://doi.org/10.1037/abn0000362

Flaherty, C. (March 6, 2018). Mental Health Crisis for Grad Students. Insight Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/03/06/new-study-says-graduate-students-mental-health-crisis

Hartley, M. T. ( 2010). Increasing resilience: Strategies for reducing dropout rates for college students with psychiatric disabilities. American Journal of Psychiatric Rehabilitation, 13, 295– 315. https://doi.org/10.1080/15487768.2010.523372

Okahana, H. (2018). Pressing Issue: Mental Wellness of Graduate Students [Blog post]. Council of Graduate Studies. Retrieved from: https://cgsnet.org/pressing-issue-mental-wellness-graduate-students-0#_ftnref6

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