Student Mental Health
- Posted by Chris Flanagan
- On June 26, 2023
A Complex Journey of Struggle and Finding Support
In the winter of 2023, 31 college students from across the country participated in a research opportunity to elevate their voice in service of better understanding of what a nurturing campus culture without mental health stigmas could look like and how the student experience could improve if mental health was nurtured in a way that worked for students. What does it mean to be “mentally healthy”? How do students know when they are? How do they cope when they’re not? How do they nurture themselves? These are just some of the avenues of inquiry we explored.
We learned that in the intricate realm of student mental health, a complex and nuanced understanding emerges, one that recognizes its vital role in the educational journey and its intricate interplay with student success. Students unequivocally acknowledge the significance of mental wellbeing, linking it to campus culture, peer support, self-care practices, and the quality of relationships with professors, staff, and peers. Upholding and nurturing mental health requires an unwavering commitment, and its deep entanglement with campus life underscores the need for robust institutional support.
Our research findings highlight the imperative recognition of both institutional and peer support in addressing mental health concerns. There is also a prevailing belief in the power of community-based support and inclusive representation within mental health programs.
Nonetheless, concerns loom regarding stigma, harm within classes, and the accessibility of mental health services. Holistic care and personal growth are viewed as integral aspects, as is the profound impact of identity and the behavior of others.
Our research emphasizes the need to think beyond coping strategies and clinical outcomes. This type of thinking currently pervades higher education and while necessary to a point, we view it as short-sighted and detrimental to both the health and well-being of students and communities at large. Given the complex ecosystem we’re working in, it is important to acknowledge how students are being impacted by a myriad of factors. Inevitably, each student will respond differently based on their identities and lived experiences. What that means is we need to create pathways for students that allow for agency, autonomy, and self-determination to nurture their health and well-being. This seems like a daunting task because of its its complexities, but it requires us to be aware of our own positionality and assume shared responsibility for collective wellbeing. And it involves supporting and valuing a wider range of student achievements and aspirations while fostering a closer-knit community of collaboration among students, mentors, faculty, professional staff, and families who uplift and support each other.
Bottom line: How we view, and measure student success must change. Institutions must lead the way in redefining its criteria by incorporating essential elements of self-care and community care in service of happier and healthier students and flourishing campus communities. It’s what the world is asking of higher education today.
So, we end with two questions: What if mental health was elevated to the same status as academic and career pursuits? And what might a campus community full of “mentally healthy” students be capable of?
Download Kinetic Seeds Mental Health and Student Success Briefing
Beyond Survival: Toward Affirming, Dignifying and Humanizing Student Outcomes