T1 subpage 3 : Embracing mental health care needs in HE
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Embracing mental health care needs in HE

Mental health struggles on college campuses have increased exponentially during the past 20 years (Auerbach et al., 2019) and have been called “a crisis” on campus (Chen et al., 2019). Our world is currently ravaged by uncertainty, astounding loss, and upended lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the ensuing and cascading economic, social, and environmental syndemics. A “syndemic” is defined as a synergistic interaction between socioecological, psychosocial and biological factors, resulting in the augmentation of adverse health outcomes. The COVID-19 pandemic has escalated into a syndemic due to several driving factors, anxiety, loneliness, uncertainty, poor nutrition, social distancing and lack of access to health services. The dynamic interlinkages between such driving forces result in adverse mental health outcomes including depression, suicide, and anxiety (Yavad et al., 2020). The socioeconomic syndemic is likely to have drastic consequences for funding education and other public services impacting young people’s opportunities and livelihoods. Hence, commitments to higher education are a matter of utmost importance. HEIs must continue to reach out to societies in a world that is challenged. They must be a voice of empowerment, support, and education for students, communities, and society. In response to the crises in HE, educators, administrators, students, and parents must address HES’s needs, safeguarding them and their respective communities through solidarity, compassion, and appreciation for our common humanity.

The question that arises is: How do we go about managing the “mental health crisis” on university campuses in such demanding circumstances?

We propose a holistic Campus Community Approach to organising that is co-constructed with several key stakeholders (administrators, faculty, staff, students, counselling centre personnel) from across the university to ensure its relevance and reflect the breadth of factors that contribute to health and wellbeing for all within the campus. This community approach enables a consideration of the systemic interplay between people and context. Health and wellbeing are positioned with respect to co-producing holistic health and wellbeing policies and protocols; developing responsive health services and programming; strengthening community relationships and connectedness; constructing supportive environments; and facilitating wellbeing and personal development. The elements of this type of approach are presented in the boxes below. Within each element, examples of the programming which can be applied to meeting HES’s mental health needs are outlined.