Over the past few years, mental health awareness has become an increasing priority within higher education. With no shortage of problems running anywhere from depression and anxiety to much more serious issues like food insecurity, self-harm, drug abuse and more, administrators are doubling down on hiring social workers, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals to combat the rampant issues at institutions.
Those issues have only gotten worse with the onset of COVID-19. Increased loneliness, fears of infection and the sudden closures of campus only made existing mental health issues worse. Throughout the pandemic, students have replaced social interaction with additional screentime. Although the days of managing empty campuses and sole dependence on distance learning are largely behind us, student mental health will continue to be an area of focus for institutions.
In the wake of the pandemic, administrators have increased their due diligence when it comes to ensuring their students are heard, and those efforts have mostly paid off. According to Ivy.ai’s Future of Higher Ed report, 62 percent of graduates said they felt supported in their mental health while attending their institution.
Yet, current strategies to locate high-risk students aren’t scalable. Mental health challenges aren’t going away and it’s nearly impossible to keep tabs on every student. Institutions need strategies to provide support to the most vulnerable among their student body.
Fortunately, AI chatbots are making it easier than ever for institutions to provide proactive outreach through automated SMS campaigns. Our data shows that students ultimately feel better when institutions stay in front of mental health issues. The Future of Higher Ed survey revealed that 72 percent of students said they’d feel more connected to their institution if it proactively checked on their well-being.
For institutions that currently have AI chatbots that can proactively text students, there are a number of options available to help protect student mental health. Here are seven of the most common scripts used to combat student mental health.
Information related to mental health
Some students don’t have mental health needs that require consultation with a professional. Sometimes, just checking in is enough to keep students satisfied. This type of script provides students the opportunity to open up and either ask for more help, or let the bot know they want counseling on a specific issue.
If students don’t want counseling, they might still appreciate knowing that someone is looking out for them. The average student will be appreciative of your offer to help, even if they never take you up on it.
Sexual abuse and domestic violence
When students are in more serious situations like sexual abuse or domestic violence, it’s not always easy to call 9-1-1. But providing a way to text or chat with campus authorities when a student feels unsafe not only assures their safety but also provides a level of anonymity as needed.
Institutions that choose to use SMS campaigns often allow students to use a code word, like “IPV” to let them know they’re in trouble. It can also allow access to a therapist, without creating a potentially embarrassing situation for them. Since many domestic violence and sexual abuse cases go unreported, anonymity is crucial to reversing this trend on campus.
Bullying and hazing issues
Fraternities and sororities are notorious for any number of hazing issues that take place. And freshmen in particular deal with the brunt of bullying more than others. For years, institutions have worked to mitigate this issue through a variety of policies, but lack the ability for students to anonymously report when it happens in a quick and efficient manner.
AI chatbots can help alert administrators any time a student reports bullying, or explain the proper steps to take if a student believes improper behavior is taking place. Most students don’t want to report hazing when it takes place for fear of retribution. This is especially true if the student feels like he or she needs to do something to fit in and doesn’t want to be seen as a tattletale.
Providing students with an anonymous method of reporting social issues will ultimately help them feel more secure on campus and trust that institutions are putting mental health first. Nipping problems like hazing in the bud can go a long way in ensuring that students are protected and ultimately prevent transfers before it’s too late.
Low-income students often opt out of meal plans due to their high cost. Or if they’re on a meal plan, the end of the semester proves to be problematic as students sometimes don’t know where they’ll get their next meal.
While your institution might have a program in place for students that fit the profile, many might feel too ashamed to ask. However, when given the opportunity to discuss their needs anonymously, they might feel more compelled to do so.
Using an SMS campaign, administrators can set up an automatic workflow that helps students understand where they can go for food when they’re hungry and what hours they can access it. In addition, it can help automatically set up delivery options if the student doesn’t feel comfortable going in person.
For students that are too far from campus, providing them with an option to have food delivered can make them more comfortable in communicating their needs and provide the confidence that the institution is looking out for their best interests. If your institution is looking to attract students from diverse economic backgrounds, it’s important to show that your administration is willing to take the extra step to make students in need feel like they can rely on you for support.
Exam time is typically one of the most stressful times in any semester. Not only does it significantly weigh on a student’s grade for the course, but is also a root source for mental health breakdowns.
More than anything, students just need someone to reach out and offer a hand, or perhaps some resources to help them study. The problem is that students often know that resources exist to help them deal with stress, but don’t think about getting the help they need until it’s too late.
Providing proactive outreach at relevant academic checkpoints helps ensure that no student falls through the crack. But most importantly, it establishes a culture that encourages students to ask for help, rather than allowing students to let stress have a devastating impact on their mental health. When students ultimately believe that institutions sincerely care about their well-being, they’re more likely to be at ease and can overcome some of the stress that comes with testing.
Data-driven mental health checkpoints
Students have shown a willingness to provide more data if it means getting a better experience. With more access to data than ever before, institutions can get a better handle around when students are most likely to suffer a mental health issue.
Through the use of AI, administrators can understand various trends such as which topics students are most likely to discuss and when they’ll be asked. This provides the opportunity to get on top of certain issues and provide just-in-time outreach.
For example, an institution could offer assistance two months in a semester, when a student may experience homesickness or during the dead of winter when seasonable depression is likely to be at an all-time high. Embracing the capabilities of data and analytics provides a unique opportunity to get students needed support when students are most likely to suffer from mental health problems.
Community health check-ins
Attending a college or university is a transition for everyone, and that sometimes includes family or friends. SMS campaigns can help students keep tabs on loved ones to help mitigate issues or provide strategies to improve strained relationships.
This type of outreach can help reduce anxiety for students that have contentious relationships and may have issues at home to deal with.
Fixing the mental health crisis on campus requires empowering students to get the help they need through knowledge and identifying problems when they occur. Students require resources to practice mindfulness and take preventative measures to improve their mental health.
But they can’t get there alone. Administrators and faculty alike need to work together and find solutions that can help students feel at ease. Embracing the potential that AI chatbots have to offer can help mitigate many of the student mental health issues before they become serious.