(The National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine, January 13)  A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine calls on U.S. colleges and universities to take comprehensive, campuswide approaches to more effectively address mental health and substance use problems among students and to develop cultures that support well-being.

Rates of mental health and substance use problems reported by students have been rising for years on campuses, the report says. In addition, the three crises that marked 2020 — the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic crisis caused by it, and the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery and the national reckoning with racism that has followed — have led to a marked increase in psychological distress being reported by college and university students.

“These long-standing problems cannot be allowed to go on unchecked — for the sake of the students themselves, and for the sake of society, which needs graduates who are not only well-educated but also mentally and physically healthy,” said Alan Leshner, chair of the committee that wrote the report, and CEO emeritus of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Students reporting mental health problems are twice as likely as other students to drop out of school before completing their degree, the report notes.

Universities and colleges need to take a new approach to mental health challenges — changing their cultures to emphasize shared responsibility and a holistic understanding of what it means in practice to support students, the report says. For example, faculty should be trained on how to support healthy learning environments and to recognize when students may benefit from a mental health referral, and students should be taught about habits that affect well-being and the mental health resources available to them.

“No real progress will be made unless institutions decide to promote a climate that clearly values the well-being of every student,” said Leshner. “The overall tone for that campuswide atmosphere must be articulated by institutional leadership, and all sectors of the institution — faculty, staff, and students — should be involved. Each has a role to play.”

Student mental health problems pervasive, even before pandemic

Research shows that student mental health problems are pervasive across the nation’s colleges and universities, the report says. Read more.

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