Universities are increasingly recognizing the student mental health crisis in higher ed. High rates of suicide – the No. 2 cause of death among college students, according to the nonprofit Active Minds – show only a small snapshot of how many students are suffering, many of them silently. Thirty-nine percent endure a significant mental health issue of some kind during college, but many never speak to a professional.
In response, universities are hiring more counselors, getting the word out about on-campus resources, teaching students meditation and yoga as stress relievers, highlighting hotlines that are available 24/7, and finding other ways to address the concern.
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All of these are essential components of a comprehensive strategy. One aspect that doesn’t get much attention, however, is the potential for a peer community that can reduce the stigma of getting help.
Peer groups play a vital role in student mental health
A friend in need
One theme that emerged from a recent survey of nearly 10,000 U.S. students by Active Minds and The National Society of Collegiate Scholars (NSCS) is that friends are a go-to resource for students with mental health challenges. Sixty-seven percent of students who are feeling suicidal talk to a friend about it before telling anyone else. What can universities do to make sure that when this conversation happens, students are ready to respond in a healthy way?