COMBATING A MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS
In my two decades in higher education, I have witnessed seismic political, social and economic shifts that have had major effects on college communities throughout the nation. But today we are facing our greatest crisis because I see a generation of students crying out for mental health support.
According to the most recent data from the Healthy Minds Study, 44% of college and university students struggle with depression, 37% experience anxiety and 15% have considered suicide. These are the highest rates of mental health disorders reported over the 15 years this survey has been conducted.
No matter how stimulating and instructive our college courses may be, students won’t be able to benefit from these educational offerings while experiencing high levels of psychological distress.
To succeed, students need so much more from colleges than an excellent academic education. We must adapt by rethinking our traditional role as educators and work towards creating campuses that are a holistic ecosystem of well-being, providing the resources, support, and caring environment that enables our students to develop into healthy and independent adults. Our nation needs this future workforce and citizenry to emerge from their years of schooling with the intellectual and emotional strength, curiosity and resilience necessary for successful and fulfilling lives and careers.
More than ever, students crave meaningful connections and a community of belonging. Schools must respond by creating a culture of caring within our campuses. Our responsibility is to not only proffer knowledge, but also to embrace our roles as navigators, parental figures, coaches and mentors who truly engage with students on a personal level. That also means preventing students with mental health needs from slipping through the cracks.
Colleges can no longer just be institutes of higher learning. While we can’t protect students from the factors impacting their mental health prior to their arrival on our campus, we can and must transform our schools into supportive and nurturing communities that help set students on a positive path for the rest of their lives.
Michael J. Avaltroni is the president of Fairleigh Dickinson University. An alumnus of the institution (BS 1999) he gained his Ph.D. at Princeton University and then became a faculty member at FDU. He was then named dean of the School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, which he helped found and led to great success. He became provost in 2022 and then president in 2023.
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