Student mental health needs are on the rise--and so are campus wellness centers as institutions seek to address students' needs.

Wellness centers grow as institutions focus on mental health


Student mental health needs are on the rise--and so are campus wellness centers

Key points:

Student mental health and well-being is a major focus area for higher-ed institutions across the nation, particularly as schools emerge from the pandemic and seek to address the growing number of students who experience mental health crises, food and housing insecurity, and other stressors that negatively impact their educational experience and success.

In a 2021 survey at Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County Community College (MCCC), 80 percent of students said their mental health impacted their academic work at least once a week, including concerns about food and housing. Based on that survey, MCCC moved forward on what would eventually become the Wellness Center at MCCC.

“We had data to back up the needs of our students,” said Dr. Nichole Kang, director of the Wellness Center at MCCC.

The Wellness Center first served students online before opening for in-person services at both the Pottstown, Pa. and Bluebell, Pa. campuses. Any student can receive services at any time, and while services initially started with text-based care and expanded into virtual visits, now MCCC works with TimelyCare to offer health, counseling, medical, and psychiatry services. To supplement those virtual services from TimelyCare, masters-level students from a nearby university provide weekly 1-hour therapy sessions for students.

The Wellness Center at MCCC’s Pottstown campus is funded through community mental health block grants from the county. Those grants allowed MCCC to renovate a section of rooms previously used as classrooms to provide a number of services targeted to various mental health and wellness needs, including:

  • A sensory room: A comfortable, quiet room with dimmer light and noise machines designed to support students on the autism spectrum (although any student is welcome).
  • Counseling space: Students can use this space if they’re meeting counselors in person, or they can claim a quiet, private spot to meet with a virtual counselor.
  • The Student Support Programs room: This space houses resources and workstations for work readiness and academic programs.

MCCC also holds space for Montgomery County’s Partnership on Work Enrichment and Readiness (POWER) program, which helps students in substance use recovery or mental health recovery find success on campus and reach academic and career potential.  

Data is great, and as the Wellness Center looked for ways to demonstrate its impact, Kang said they focused in particular on student retention from the fall semester to the spring semester. “Fall to spring, if we retain a student, we’ve done a good job.”

They’ve done a great job, in fact–the Wellness Center retained 100 percent of students who used the center the most from fall to spring, and those students also demonstrated increases in their GPAs.

One of the Wellness Center’s main goals, Kang said, is to reduce the stigma around seeking help for mental health struggles and mental health challenges.

“We participate in or host events where we talk about the things we offer [and tell students], ‘Get help if you need it. Share it with peers.’ The more we’re talking about it, the easier it is to know where to get the services. This doesn’t have to be embarrassing,” Kang said.

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Laura Ascione

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