JED Campus is an excellent way to begin creating and implementing a strategic plan for mental health promotion, substance abuse and suicide prevention programming on campus.
The JED Campus Framework is a consolidation of factors known to help in promoting mental health, preventing suicide and limiting substance use. It draws significantly from The Comprehensive Approach to Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention on College and University Campuses developed by The Jed Foundation and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (for more information: https://www.jedfoundation.org/what-we-do/). The JED Campus Framework combines the content of the Comprehensive Model with expert recommendations regarding factors related to preventing substance abuse in young people.
1. Policy, Systems & Strategic Planning
Engaging in an active and dynamic strategic planning process is one of the most important things a school can do to ensure the future success of their mental health and substance abuse prevention programming. Strategic planning allows schools to anticipate and evaluate clinical and programming needs, examine how they deploy both personnel and financial resources to address challenges, coordinate efforts across campus, and evaluate programming effectiveness.
Campus policies are necessary in order to establish norms, build awareness, improve the quality of health services, protect students and discourage harmful behaviors across campus. Having comprehensive and clear policies around health, mental health and substance misuse are important ingredients in prevention. Policies, systems and strategic planning demonstrate that the school takes these issues seriously and addresses them in a thoughtful, pragmatic, and formal way.
2. Develop Life Skills
The higher education experience is not just about academics. It is a time of enormous personal growth and adaptation. With this growth can come challenges like relationship difficulties and financial problems - all of which are risk factors for emotional health issues like depression and suicidal behavior. Supporting life-skills education is valuable in teaching healthy ways to cope with the stress of college life. Some of the life skills that are important to a student’s well-being include managing friendships and relationships, problem solving, decision making, identify and manage emotions, healthy living, and finding life purpose, meaning and identity.
Life-skills education can be implemented across campus through clinical and non-clinical staff such as health educators and student affairs staff. An increased focus on life skills development may also ease the burden on counseling centers, because it might limit or prevent some problems from emerging in ways that require clinical care.
Research has shown that loneliness and isolation are significant risk factors for mental health problems and/or suicidal behavior. Therefore, supportive social relationships and feeling connected to campus, family and friends are protective factors that can help lower risk. Efforts to facilitate social connectedness should go beyond simply encouraging students to get involved on campus. For example, some campuses have developed smaller “living and learning communities” where students have the option to live with other students who share their major or interests. Some campuses also have dedicated space in their student unions for student to meet and socialize together.
4. Academic Performance
Mental health is critical to student academic performance, and academic performance can impact stress levels and emotional health. Healthy living and academics can be thought of as two complementary ingredients that contribute to a healthy campus community and successful student body. Therefore, it is essential to take necessary measures to encourage and teach both academic and life skills. These measures can range from academic advisors and student services staff co-facilitating seminars focusing on study skills, healthy and effective sleep patterns and time management training for their advisees, to implementing a regular course evaluation system that students can access and contribute to anonymously. It is useful to develop early warning systems to help advisors and faculty to identify students who are floundering academically and examine causes and possible remedial steps. The implementation of these measures will yield compounded benefits both in and outside the classroom.
5. Student Wellness
Studies suggest that students who participate in regular exercise and other healthy behaviors enjoy improved mental health, better academic performance, stronger relationships and lower rates of drug abuse. Therefore it is important to encourage a healthy, balanced campus environment by employing health promotion and skills development tactics across campus. Some of these health promotion tactics include free health/fitness programs available to the entire student population and designated “stress-free” zones on campus.
6. Identify Students at Risk
Research shows that many college students who need help do not seek it out on their own. Therefore, it is important to take action to identify students at risk for mental health problems and/or suicidal behavior. Campus administrators should work together to make sure information about mental/physical health and student support are both accessible and available to those in a position to identify and intervene with students who may be struggling. It is also important to promote emotional health awareness among those who interact with students the most – “gatekeepers” such as residence hall staff, academic advisors, faculty and even fellow students – as it is vital for these people to be able to recognize and refer a student who might be in distress.
7. Increase Help-Seeking Behavior
Many students who need help may be reluctant or unsure of how to seek it out. Some of the obstacles to help-seeking include lack of awareness of mental health services, skepticism about the effectiveness of treatment, prejudices associated with mental illness and uncertainty about costs or insurance coverage. Campuses should engage in a variety of activities designed to increase the likelihood that a student in need will seek help.
8. Provide Mental Health & Substance Use Disorder Services
Preserving student’s mental health is critical in preventing substance abuse and strengthening their academic success. Therefore, it is essential to offer accessible, consistent and high-quality mental health services to students. To make mental health and substance abuse care more comprehensive, it should include strong and flexible services, adequate staffing levels, flexibility in treatment approaches, and clinic hours that are reflective of student schedules. Since most college clinics are free, the length of treatment is often limited. Therefore, it is important that campus mental health services can assist students in finding off-campus resources that can provide long-term care if needed. Additionally, it is important to have adequate coordination between the campus medical services, mental health services and other campus and local clinical services. Substance abuse is a significant and common problem on campuses, so students should have access to a comprehensive array of assessment and treatment services on campus or in the local community. Since prescription opiates are a leading cause of student death, campuses should increase the availability of Naloxone, a drug that rapidly and safely reverses opiate overdose. Campus first responders and those at high risk should have access to Naloxone and be taught how to administer it (as permitted by local law).
9. Means Restriction & Environmental Safety
It has been well established that if the means to self-harm are removed or limited in an environment, it can prevent suicide and even limit accidental deaths. This is called “means restriction.” Limiting students’ access to weapons, poisonous chemicals and roof-tops, windows or other high places are all means restriction activities. Each campus should do an environmental scan for potential access to lethal or dangerous means. Further information on conducting environmental scans and about means restriction can be found on the Means Matter Campaign’s website (http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/means-matter/).