How Telehealth Can Increase Access to Mental Healthcare for College Students

Millions of students are set to return to college campuses all over the country over the next few weeks. While this is an exciting time for many students, it can be a challenging one as well, and one that has only been complicated by the effects of the pandemic.

According to the CDC, three out of four Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 now report poor mental health resulting from the pandemic. This is among a population that is already more prone to mental health issues, with significantly greater portions of young adults in college reporting struggling with conditions such as anxiety and depression than their unenrolled peers.

For example, a recent survey conducted by Fortune found that 43% of college students report struggling with anxiety and 33% report struggling with depression, compared to 29% and 27%, respectively, of US adults in general. Suicide and suicidal ideation rates are also especially high in college students: according to the National College Health Risk Behavior Survey, 10.3% of respondents reported seriously considering attempting suicide, 6.7% had made a suicide plan, and 1.5% reported they had attempted suicide one or more times in the 12 months preceding the survey.

The good news is that many students suffering from these conditions see the value in seeking support from mental health care providers. According to a recent survey, 60% of prospective college students now say that mental health services are a very important factor in their search for a university, a statistic that has jumped significantly in the wake of the pandemic. University presidents and leadership also recognize the need: according to the American Counsel on Education, 68% of university presidents view student body mental health as one of their most pressing issues.

The bad news is that, despite that awareness, many universities struggled for years to adequately meet that demand, making access challenging for students and creating barriers to care for many. The reason for this gap is largely due to resourcing issues. Most schools only offer in-person counseling options, and there are simply not enough credentialed providers to go around. Colleges have attempted to address this in the past by triaging patients through a “stepped care” model, under which students initially receive the least resource-intensive form of care and are only allowed a more fulsome approach if it is deemed necessary. Other schools have capped the number of sessions an individual can schedule with a provider in an attempt to free up appointment time. Either way, it is clear that there are not enough traditional mental healthcare resources to meet the needs of America’s college students.

This is where telehealth and Cerebral come in. As a telemental health care provider, Cerebral can help plug the resourcing gaps that many colleges are experiencing. Cerebral provides students suffering from mental health issues with the ability to book an appointment with a provider within days, alleviating some of the historically lengthy wait times for college counseling services. Cerebral is also able to quickly adapt to a patient’s needs, allowing students to increase or decrease their care as needed and without restrictions. Furthermore, students can now receive care in the comfort and privacy of their dorm, which will lower the threshold for seeking care. Some students find it intimidating or shameful to walk into the counseling centers.

We already actively partner with a number of universities to offer this kind of hybrid approach to mental health care for students. For example, we partnered with Arkansas Colleges of Health Education (ACHE) to provide all students access to Cerebral’s telehealth services.

A hybrid approach such as the one deployed by ACHE should be considered the future of mental health care on college campuses as university officials continue to look for ways to expand access and meet demand among their student populations. College is a stressful and intense time for many, and adequate mental health support can make navigating it all the more manageable.

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