Congress must help schools tackle mental health challenges
Imagine the burden schools are carrying this fall – having to deal with the mental health of students shaken by the anxiety, grief and displacement associated with the pandemic. At one point last year, two-thirds of American college students struggled with loneliness, and 83 percent said their mental health had a negative impact on their academic performance.
Fortunately, a bipartisan group of United States House members are sponsoring the Improve mental health and suicide prevention through the Campus Planning Act, reintroduced on September 28 by Rep. Susan SauvageSusan WildOvernight Health Care – Brought to you by Altria – Vulnerable House Dems Pushes Drug Pricing Plan Vulnerable House Democrats warn not to lower prices of package drugs House GOP campaign arm issues ad slamming Democrats on IRS PLUS banking report proposal (D-Pa.), Which encourages colleges to develop and implement comprehensive mental health and suicide prevention plans.
This bill, endorsed by the organization we help lead – The Jed Foundation (JED), along with other like-minded organizations, aligns strongly with our mission. At JED, we’ve worked with colleges for 20 years to develop exactly these types of programs, the ones that organize every stakeholder into a unified force that protects the mental health of every student. We predict that schools that do not take a holistic approach will find it difficult to manage the volume and intensity of pandemic-related issues their student body is likely to carry. Our model is an evidence-based approach – originally developed by the US Air Force in response to a series of suicides in the 1990s – and modified for use with adolescents and young adults.
Two guiding principles guide this approach: a school-wide approach where everyone has a role to play in supporting young adult mental health; and senior management support for long-term systemic change.
The first step in our holistic approach is to form an inclusive leadership team made up of school administrators, teachers, coaches and students as well as community leaders such as public health and public safety officials. .
The next step is for the team to collect data on the specific challenges and stressors their students face, as well as attitudes and behaviors related to seeking help whether themselves or a peer. are having difficulty. The team should assess existing policies, programs and systems and identify gaps that could hinder progress in mitigating student mental health issues. The team should identify improvements that would cultivate an environment that actively promotes social bonds, development of life skills, seeking help, recognizing signs of distress in others, systematizing proven crisis management procedures , popularization of health and counseling services and restriction of access to lethal means. Once the gaps have been identified, it is essential to develop a strategic plan to address these gaps, outlining the goals and concrete actions to achieve those goals.
The next step is to ensure a fair implementation of this comprehensive approach. Mental health needs are not uniform across all student populations. Ethnicity, race, socioeconomic status, and gender identity are a few examples of student groups that can differ significantly in the challenges they face and how best to support their mental health. Students from different geographies may lack support resources that others do not have. It is essential that the teams collect the comments of those who can highlight the specific needs inherent in each community served by the school.
Additionally, teams should seriously consider incorporating and using voices that have a significant impact on young people, such as celebrities and influencers. The extent to which public figures have discussed their own mental health issues is one of the most positive aspects of our digital media culture. Megan Markle, Selena Gomez, and Michael Phelps are well-known proponents of seeking help with mental health issues. Working their narratives into educational messages for student consumption can be particularly effective.
This year, as political divisions separate us, one thing that should – and must – to unite us is the well-being of our youth. Congress is expected to pass the Improving Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Act through campus planning to provide critical resources to colleges when they need them most. Comprehensive mental health protection plans are the best way to reduce the worst effects of the pandemic on young adults in our country. This fall, let’s put aside our differences and unite to make these plans a success. The health of our young people depends on it.
John MacPhee is CEO of The Jed Foundation and Nance Roy, Ed.D., is Chief Clinical Officer of The Jed Foundation.