- Michael Huseby is the CEO of Barnes and Noble Education, which partners with colleges.
- As mental health suffers during COVID-19, he says schools can help by improving student resources.
- Colleges should ask students’ input on services they want and offer mental-health literacy classes.
After a tumultuous two years through the pandemic, we’re now seeing the longer-term effects social isolation and school closures have had on America’s students.
While data has been released on the mental health of younger children, there’s been little on the state of mental health among college attendees, and thus less focus on how universities and colleges can meet their students’ mental-health needs.
As the CEO of Barnes and Noble Education, an organization that serves more than 850 higher-education institutions, I’m constantly working with my team to understand how college students learn, study, and socialize.
In November 2021, our research platform Barnes & Noble College Insights surveyed 1,116 college students to create a report, “The State of Student Mental Health.”
When asked if their college provided resources for mental health and student well-being, nearly seven in 10 respondents said their campus did provide resources and five in 10 respondents said they felt those resources would be helpful to them.
However, many of the students who acknowledged their campus provided support said they rarely or never take advantage of the resources. This statistic made me wonder — why are students who know their campus provides helpful mental-health resources not taking advantage of them?
One reason may be the stigma that continues to surround mental health. The Biden administration’s October 2021 mental-health report included a section on the perceived stigma of mental health and how it acts as a barrier to accessing available services. The report said that “perceived public stigma is one of the major reasons people, including children, adolescents, and families, do not seek mental health care.”
Knowing that the perceived stigma of mental health is potentially stopping students from getting the assistance they need, here are three ways colleges and universities can help.
1. Seek input from students
The best way for administrators to understand how to reshape the student mental-health experience is to listen to their students. At the start of a new year or semester, institutions can send out a survey asking students about their needs and create a mental-health report to provide requested resources.
Whether students want group-therapy sessions, campus days with therapy pets, or free subscriptions to online mental-health support, their input is key to creating resources that they’ll actually use.
2. Implement mental-health literacy
Scholars and psychologists have suggested that some negative perceptions of mental health can be reduced through mental-health literacy. Universities can help by providing a free extracurricular “mental health 101” course for students to take during their first year. This course can provide an overview of common mental-health issues and outline the campus resources available to students.
Some universities are already implementing this type of program. In a recent conversation with the Florida International University President Mark Rosenberg, he told me the school starting offering “emotional intelligence digital badges” that can be added to students’ online credentials to help tell the story of what they’ve learned to potential employers — beyond their degree. This can help remove negative stigma by encouraging all students to showcase their mental-health knowledge.
3. Offer flexible resources
Just as many college classes moved online due to the pandemic, colleges can offer mental-health resources virtually as well as in person. At Barnes and Noble College, we hope to support our institutional partners by bringing more mental-health resources to our bookstores so students can easily access mental-health information and support within their campus store.
As someone who speaks with the college and university leaders every day, I know they see the importance of improving services and support for student mental health. With these improved strategies, colleges and students can work together toward creating a more inclusive higher-education system.