At the Dell Scholars program, we work every day to better understand our students’ circumstances and support their college experience. Recognizing that our students often struggle to find robust mental health resources, the Dell Scholars program has introduced several layers of support to ensure their needs aren’t going unmet.
Here are our tips for building out a mental health support strategy that your students can rely on when they need it most.
Tip #1: Know your students. From conference sessions to trainings to the news, mental health is a familiar topic of discussion among scholarship and higher education professionals, as well it should be. But while advisors may be familiar with national trends, it’s important for them to understand the particular challenges facing their student population.
Each year, the Dell Scholars program launches a situational survey in which our students rate their mindset and discuss challenges, successes, or obstacles they are experiencing. This information helps us understand each student’s individual circumstances as well as the overall trends impacting our students. For example, many of our Dell Scholars have significant responsibilities beyond the classroom, whether working to help support their families financially or caring for children or family members. Based on this knowledge, we are able to provide programming on topics like time management or how to balance school and work.
Tip #2: Refer students to campus resources. Many colleges have a counseling center where students can access free or low-cost services. Some even offer therapy groups, wellness workshops, and other resources to promote students’ well-being, making them a great first stop for students in need of support, especially if they live on campus (when services are offered in-person).
There are some drawbacks to campus-based services – occasionally, the demand is so great that students may find themselves waiting a few weeks to receive support, or they may only be eligible for a few counseling sessions. But it’s worth them taking the time to see what resources are available nearby.
Tip #3: Know where to turn in an emergency. We are committed to serving as a support system for our Dell Scholars, no matter the challenges they are facing. Our Scholar Resource Network (SRN) was created to ensure we are able to provide appropriate guidance to students in crisis; the SRN is powered by ComPsych, but other programs are available and we encourage providers to explore the options to find the right fit for your own students. In the style of an employee assistance program (EAP), the SRN provides robust support for students struggling with personal and school-life issues: from confidential counseling to financial and legal guidance and more. In the event of a mental health emergency, a trusted professional can step in to provide counseling right then and there, at no cost to the student.
The spouses, children, and parents of our Dell Scholars also benefit from these services, and support received always remains confidential. Each individual is eligible for up to three counseling sessions, in addition to the SRN’s other services.
Tip #4: Normalize the topic of mental health. From self-care and stress management to tips for avoiding burnout – mental health is front and center in our communication with students. In webinars, social media posts, and email campaigns, the Dell Scholars program prioritize content that normalizes discussion of mental health and encourages students to take advantage of the resources available to them. We frequently spotlight resources, webinars, and articles from Active Minds, a nonprofit dedicated to student mental health.
Another way we keep our support top of mind with Dell Scholars is through ongoing text campaigns, sharing helpful articles and words of encouragement on a monthly basis. Our advisors identify individual students who are struggling with stress, or for a separate campaign, working 20+ hours a week, and offer for them to opt in. So far, our outreach has been well-received and a great way to open the door to a conversation when the time is right.
Remember, students are likely to have different comfort levels when it comes to discussing mental health, and as a trusted advisor, you may be the first person a student is willing to talk to about the challenges they are facing. Our advice is to meet students where they are at while making sure they feel supported, every step of the way.
Tip #5: Keep learning and adapting your support model. We are constantly looking for new ways to serve our students, and that includes keeping our eyes and ears open to better understand their changing needs. The coronavirus pandemic shifted those needs practically overnight. Mental health services are in high demand among college students, which is pinching supply – especially as counseling centers and therapists adjust to the landscape of virtual support.
Building on the urgent, short-term counseling offered through the SRN, Dell Scholars are now able to access additional teletherapy services through BetterHelp. There is no limit on the number of sessions, and they can easily connect with a licensed therapist via chat, phone, or video.
Tip #6: Mental health support isn’t one-size-fits-all. Every student will come to you with needs that are uniquely theirs. Having someone to vent to may be all they need. Others may be looking for the push from a trusted advisor to finally check out the mental health center, while another student will be inspired by a text with words of motivation at just the right time.
There’s no single approach that will check the box for every student. At the Dell Scholars program, we layer on different kinds of support because each of these options will resonate with different students.
In an academic year of incredible challenges, it’s obvious that there are factors beyond the lecture hall that impact students’ success in college. As advisors, we are here to support their journeys to graduation, and that includes supporting them as human beings. We are always aware of this important responsibility to our students, and the amazing opportunity we have to serve them.