College can be a stressful time for students. Academic work is more rigorous than high school, responsibilities increase and students can face different and unfamiliar situations. With so many stressors, it is important for NKU’s campus community to identify mental health needs, and make sure they are being addressed.
The Healthy Minds Survey, which was sent in October 2020 to 4,000 NKU students, gathered information about recent mental health status, mental health resources on campus and other related issues among students. Amy Clark, NKU Student Counseling Services director, and Rose Tempel, NKU Health Services director, were awarded $15,000 as part of the 2020 Innovation Challenge to implement the survey, used in other colleges across the nation. Four hundred thirty-five students responded to the survey.
Clark and Tempel say the data highlights areas where NKU is excelling but also shows where the university could improve. For example, about 16% of the students who responded to the survey said they had experienced some sort of suicidal thinking within the past of year. The average rate for other colleges is about 10%
“This data emphasizes the tremendous need for our campus community to continue having transparent discussions regarding suicide and mental health, as well as providing preventive education and support to our students. We have to fight through the stigma and demonstrate we aren’t afraid to have such conversation,” says Clark.
Alternatively, over 50% of students said they would return to counseling if needed and about 85% of students found counseling at least somewhat helpful.
“In general, what we found is that our students are pretty open and honest about their mental health struggles but they also indicated that they know where to go for services and assistance,” says Clark.
Clark and Tempel worked with other people and departments on campus, including Kendra Massey, director of the Norse Violence Prevention Center; Jihye Kwon, analyst for co-curricular assessment and research of Institutional Research; and Molly Woods, head athletic trainer of the Athletic department. Of the 4,000 students who received the survey, 100 of them were student athletes. About 35 of those responded.
“We know that sometimes our student athletes have a lot of pressure and performance anxiety, whether that’s related to the sport that they play or just academics,” says Clark.
The survey was originally intended to be distributed in the spring of 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed it. Therefore, some survey questions touched up upon how the pandemic affected students’ mental health. Specific questions asked about aspects like social distancing and where students got their information about COVID-19.
“Everyone felt that COVID-19 made things a lot more stressful,” Tempel said. “So some of the results may have skewed because of the pandemic.”
One limitation when applying the results to the general student body was that 89% of the respondents were white, The Healthy Minds Survey committee noted. The data from the Healthy Minds Survey has already been shared with NKU’s Mental Health Advisory Group and NKU’s Board of Regents, and a similar survey was recently sent out to NKU faculty and staff to gauge their knowledge of how to help students with their mental health. Clark said the data from the survey is already being put to good use. There are plans for a “peer mentor model” coming to NKU this fall since most students are more likely to talk to a friend before seeking professional help.
“This will not be a one and done experiment. It’s going to be an on-going process for us to continue to evaluate what we’re doing and how we can continue to best care for our campus community,” Clark says.
The data comparing NKU to other colleges and universities should be available sometime this summer. The Healthy Minds Survey committee hopes the survey could be administered again following the pandemic, getting a larger response rate from all demographics, which would better reflect NKU’s diverse student population’s mental health needs.