Group of student athletes on campus discussing mental health

Holistic student wellness: assessing risk and enhancing higher education's mental health framework

Mental health issues are a growing societal concern that higher education institutions are not immune to. College life can be stressful. Managing academic responsibilities, navigating relationships and adjusting to new environments may take a toll on a student's mental health. Challenges such as academic pressure, financial stress and social isolation can have a significant impact on mental health leading to depression, self-harm and even suicide. Therefore, it is crucial for institutions to have a strong mental health framework in place to address these issues and support their students’ well-being. A comprehensive higher education mental health framework can help students navigate college life by providing them with access to resources and support services such as counseling, peer support groups and mental health education. These resources can help students cope with academic and social pressures, financial stress and other encounters that may affect their mental health.

Key risks associated with mental health in higher education 

  • Negative impact on student wellness and overall experience: If students do not have access to the support and resources they need to manage their mental health, it can lead to serious consequences such as dropping out of school, failing grades and even self-harm or suicide.
  • Reputational damage: If the institution is perceived to not care about the mental health of its students, it can damage its reputation and discourage potential students from enrolling. Negative publicity related to mental health incidents, or a lack of support, can also damage the institution's brand.
  • Declining productivity and student success: When students are struggling with mental health issues, they are less likely to be productive and engaged in their studies or other campus activities. This can impact a student’s ability to persist and complete their degree, retention, and the institution's overall academic performance and reputation.
  • Decreased funding: Institutions that fail to provide adequate mental health support may also face decreased funding from donors or government agencies that prioritize student well-being.

Baker Tilly can help

Baker Tilly offers higher education institutions specialized advice and guidance. We conduct assessments of an institution's existing framework for managing mental health risks and provide recommendations for enhancement and improvement where necessary. Our services assist institutions in identifying potential risks, devising strategies to mitigate those risks and implementing best practices to enhance their mental health support and services.

Baker Tilly helps higher education institutions enhance student mental health frameworks

For more information on mental health in higher education, or to learn more about how Baker Tilly’s higher education internal audit specialists can help your institution, contact our team.

Case study: student mental health assessment in action

Students relaxing outside on a university campus

Institution need

A higher education institution client acknowledged increasing worries regarding its students' mental health and recognized the necessity to enhance its support system to aid students in achieving academic success while maintaining their mental, physical and emotional well-being. Through an initial assessment of existing student mental health support, the institution presented its recommendations to leadership, offering valuable feedback on strategies for the institution to meet the mental health and wellness requirements of its students.

Baker Tilly solution

Building upon the institution's initial efforts, the Baker Tilly team expanded on its work by offering additional insights and recommendations to strengthen student mental health and wellness support. Our evaluation encompassed an examination of the university's frameworks, models and tools, such as case management, along with benchmarking the institution against accreditation standards. Furthermore, we reviewed the responsibilities and communication mechanisms among relevant departments, including contractual obligations, to develop a comprehensive understanding of the existing structure.

While recognizing the institution's efforts in fostering a culture that promotes student mental health initiatives, our team observed several areas requiring attention. First, the statement of care, a crucial document providing students with vital information regarding available resources, services and limitations, was not widely disseminated.

Additionally, the web-based resources provided were overly general, lacking essential emergency guidance. Furthermore, due to the lack of a formalized model and in some instances, case management, the institution struggled to meet the growing student demand, resulting in lengthy wait times for mental healthcare.

Results achieved

Our recommendations for the institution included implementing formal definitions for the case management structure and exploring additional support measures, such as:

  • Campus workshops
  • Group therapy sessions integrated into academic settings
  • One-credit emotional regulation courses
  • The establishment of peer mentorship programs

Overall, Baker Tilly provided the institution with a comprehensive evaluation of their student mental health support system and developed specific recommendations to address identified issues. Baker Tilly provided valuable insights and actionable recommendations to assist the institution in improving their support structure for student mental health and wellness.

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