Colleges and universities are beginning to address the well-being of eighteen- to twenty-five-year-old young adults in their college educational experiences by hiring well-being professionals.
For example, this employment listing from a highly-competitive private liberal arts college in the Northeast is for a director of health and wellness education:
“The Director of Health and Wellness Education will develop, implement and evaluate a broad-based health and wellness education program with a focus on alcohol and drug use, sexual assault prevention and response, stress management, and bystander intervention programs” (HigherEdJobs.com).
Related content: Student well-being on campus is more important than you think
While this is a good start, we have observed that most wellness education programs are likely reactions to mental and physical health crises, with a focus on alcohol and drug use, sexual assault, and stress management.
Prevention through self-knowledge
If frontline educators can teach young adults self-knowledge and how to create a paradigm shift in their abilities to experience life and create the life of their calling, we would then teach preventatively during college how to find inner peace and understanding when faced with the stressors of modern life.
The emphasis should be placed on teaching self-knowledge as a significant protective factor for use over one’s life-span.
This job example from a mid-Atlantic liberal arts university, speaks to more preventative policies and visions (HigherEdJobs.com):
In support of the university’s commitment to the development of self-aware, emotionally stable, socially responsible and productive citizens, the university seeks to:
• Enhance students’ psychological development, including intellectual, emotional, and physical self-awareness and growth.
• Improve students’ interpersonal skills and understanding of their personal roles, responsibilities, and contributions to relationships and to a diverse and vibrant university community.
• Assist students to develop a healthy integrated lifestyle that accommodates new perspectives and diverse ideas and that are responsive to change and challenges.
• Help students cope with and overcome psychological difficulties or obstacles to their academic success and personal satisfaction.
• Support students in psychological crisis to regain psychological health and develop effective coping skills.
In our view, these job responsibilities represent our highest hopes and vision for all institutions of higher education, especially in regard to prevention.
University-based mental health and wellness education program too often lean in the direction of treatment, including the use of multiple assessments. A truly preventative approach embeds self-development educational programming into the ongoing and key university functions that make up student success supports.
Related content: 2 actions university leaders can take for wellness education
Well-being education is an important prevention strategy for all colleges and universities to formulate and implement. More directly, students (and their parents) should demand innovative programs that impart well-being attributions as part of their broader college experiences.
Cornell University’s prevention example
In Cornell’s strategic plan, the university made it a priority and responsibility to teach coping or life skills to their students as a part of the academic mission, asserting this as “the obligation of the university.”
“While we maintain and nurture the existing strengths of Cornell’s student experience, improving teaching, enhancing the diversity of the student body, and nurturing student health and well-being are priorities” (Cornell University, 2015).
As a demonstration of this commitment to “nurturing student health and well-being,” Cornell’s Health Services Center imparts the attribute of “resilience” in the areas of cognitive, behavioral, motivational, existential/ spiritual, relational, and emotional stress, with the intent that this characteristic will enhance a student’s overall success and carry forward beyond life at Cornell.
The work being done in the Health Center at Cornell University represents the appropriate focus upon well-being prevention, and establishes organizational functions in support of their mission.
Certainly, too many universities are still focused upon attempting to address such large problems of student well-being and flourishing from the mind-set of treatment versus prevention. This is the medical model that is so prominent in our society, where Dr. Sanjay Gupta states that we can prevent most of the illnesses he is asked to treat in his CNN series, Chasing Life.
Prevention in our view does not simply come from early diagnosis through assessments. Our work proactively prevents mental illness by giving students the tools that they need to construct a self, a healthy self, thereby ameliorating any symptoms that may arise due to adverse childhood experiences or other factors.