Josh Bullock

In recent years, colleges across America have developed comprehensive services for students that go beyond academic support. In addition to tutoring, study skills courses and individualized office hours to ensure classroom success, colleges are creating resources and services that support students’ well-being and mental health.

Educational leaders realize students have trouble reaching their full potential when they are under pressure to succeed academically, have trouble selecting a major or career, are not sure how to afford college and face constant feedback from social media use.

A 2019 article published on the National Academic Advising Association Academic Advising Today cited several studies that found a direct correlation between mental health and academic performance. Independent research conducted by the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) revealed that “one in four [college] students has a diagnosable [mental] illness” and “50% become so anxious that they struggle in school.”

Our Lake Land College students are having similar experiences. In 2019, Phi Theta Kappa, the college’s honor society, conducted a survey asking students for feedback on their mental health. The results mirrored the ACCT study. Of the 557 participants, 54% said their mental health has affected their academic potential. In addition, more than one-third said they felt sadness for longer than a month.

For many college students, the pandemic has created additional stress and negatively impacted their mental health. Active Minds, a student advocacy group, surveyed 2,051 students regarding the impact of COVID-19 on their mental health in September 2020. The survey revealed that “almost 75% of respondents reported their mental health has worsened since the beginning of the pandemic, with nearly 90% reporting they have experienced stress or anxiety.”

Last year, the state of Illinois recognized the mental health crisis colleges were facing and passed the Illinois Mental Health Early Action on Campus Act to increase mental health services and awareness among students. While statewide implementation and funding has been delayed due to the pandemic, Lake Land College believes in the intention of the Act and is in the process of implementing a comprehensive plan for our students.

Earlier this year, the college created two stipend faculty positions for academic counselors to implement our plan. One position focuses on student outreach and awareness while the second position acts as a compliance coordinator to identify, develop, and monitor internal and external formal mental health supports for students.

To date, the work of this team has resulted in the establishment of a new student club, Active Minds, a peer training and support program; secured linkage agreements with area mental health agencies for referral and crisis intervention support; evaluated mental health assessment resources for adoption; and identified potential training in mental health first aid for faculty and staff. Expanded implementation of these initiatives is slated for the Spring 2021 semester.

At the November meeting, the Lake Land College Board of Trustees approved a contract with BetterMynd to provide online mental health counseling services to students. BetterMynd ensures that counselors are available at times that work for students and it also provides the opportunity for students to work with a consistent counselor over multiple counseling appointments.

In addition, a Lake Land College academic counselor is devoting a sabbatical to updating her clinical counseling skills and knowledge in areas such as suicide prevention and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to assist her and the other academic counselors to better assess, assist and refer students in the future.

We are pleased to share our progress in creating a comprehensive mental health services plan that demonstrates our concern for our students. Historically, higher education has focused its efforts on providing opportunities to enhance the physical health of students. However, in considering the holistic health needs of our students, we now have an opportunity to openly discuss the need for mental health services, in a similar manner to how we discuss the need for physical health services. I welcome the opportunity to engage in a conversation about how we are assisting the mental health needs of our students, our employees and our communities. Together, we can share resources and build partnerships that contribute to the well-being of all.

Josh Bullock is the president of Lake Land College

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