How can Higher Education Institutes support in mental health of students?

The colleges and universities are the social institutions which are primarily responsible for imparting higher education in their respective countries. The western world has realized the importance of these institutes and are now also serving as facilitation centers for students. However, in Pakistan, we need to follow a similar approach. Despite of much attention given to social skills and emotional intelligence, our young adults are still among the sufferers. Developed countries are now providing their students with mental health support services too. One of the research conducted in 2018 found out that almost 35% students at college level were struggling with minor to major mental illness.

Mostly, students struggle with depression and anxiety. Even in a country like, United States of America, students reported their number one concern as anxiety with a constant raise. However, most of the high schools in USA have practiced certain techniques which had supported students in solving out their mental health issues. Likewise, similar practices shall be adopted by the educational system of Pakistan so that mental health issues can be addressed.

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1. Increased Awareness

Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) conduct orientation sessions with the students in which drug use, harassment, life at campus and other policies and procedures are briefed then why not add mental health in it as well. Many of the institutes in west now share mental health information with students by including role plays, short videos and testimonials for better understanding of the students. A separate center like Alumni office or Career Placement office is also established as students are more comfortable in discussing issues of such nature in face to face meetings and that too in a close environment.

2. Free Screenings

In order to announce it as a key attention point for a HEI and to facilitate students in knowing their current condition, mental health shall be monitored in a similar way as physical health. Few of the institutes can also offer free screenings by various MOUs with medical setups in the country. Another best example can be the replication of foreign model in which an in-house developed online assessment is available. Students can fill in the 15 minutes based online test in which the mental health is assessed and an automated report is generated.

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3. Integration with Courses

Various HEIs practice different programs, as it helps students to better understand the emotions which they are currently facing. These programs are made mandatory for the students with at least one course on annual basis to be taken, such as, “coping with stress”, “managing stress during exam”, “introduction to mindfulness” etc. However, some students still are unable to discuss issues during courses, therefore, universities ensure an availability of online resources related to stress, anxiety and other mental issues.

4. Talking on Mental Health

The centers established by universities also have a separate hotline number that works 24/7 for facilitating its students on mental health issues. All the students receive emails, calls and text messages for registering their concerns and getting help from the center. The western world has even few of the established organizations for the same purpose. This encourages students to speak about their mental health with keeping their concerns confidential and in a closed environment.

5. Well-being Practices

Teachers are encouraged by the institutes to act as social advocates and agents of change within their classes. Parents have core responsibility of grooming their own children while teachers are the ones that have hundreds of students to develop and groom. Teachers in one of the university of US initiated a mindful activity at the start of every lecture and at the end of semester, it was found out that anxiety level of the students had decreased in comparison to the earlier level of anxiety at the start of semester.