Using HEERF Funds to Support Student Mental Health on College Campuses

By Simone Figueroa, Co-Founder and President, U-Thrive Educational Services

College campuses are dealing with a mental health crisis, and it should come as no surprise that this crisis has only been exacerbated by the pandemic over the last two years. Isolation, quarantines, virtual classes, more time spent on technology, all of these have really taken a toll on student mental health.

Although mental health is a top concern for many universities, and has been for almost a decade, there is still a need to provide greater mental health support. Investing in mental health programs is a necessity and the cost of not prioritizing mental health for your students is much greater, with much worse consequences.

Students expect their college campus to provide resources for them, like educational, medical, and career services, so why not add focus on mental health services too?

The Impact of Student Mental Health Struggles

Student mental health stats prove the harsh realities of mental health issues on campuses across the country. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for college-aged students and the pandemic only inflicted further damage.

According to the CDC, in June 2020, U.S. young adults reported having deteriorating mental health outcomes leading to increased substance abuse and cases of suicidal ideation. Out of the respondents, 41% reported an adverse mental or behavioral health condition (including anxiety and depression.)

Mental health disparities are an often overlooked and poorly understood part of the student success equation. Students with mental health challenges are twice as likely to drop out of college than students without them. Since the pandemic, students of color (including Black, Latinx, American Indian/Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and multiracial students) are experiencing even higher rates of depression and anxiety as are those who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community.

And it’s not just the students who are noticing.

2021 study by Boston University found that 87% of faculty surveyed believed that student mental health has “worsened” or “significantly worsened” by 43% during the COVID-19 pandemic. When colleges don’t focus on prioritizing student mental health, a lot of the burden falls on professors who see students on a regular basis to observe signs and symptoms of distress in students, such as:

  • Social isolation and withdrawal
  • Lethargy and inability to focus
  • Disorganized thinking and speech
  • Excessive alcohol or drug use
  • Violent outbursts or actions
  • Frequent absence from class
  • Gaining or losing weight rapidly
  • Deterioration of personal hygiene
  • Expressing general unhappiness

That’s a heavy burden for university professors and staff to carry.

How Colleges Can Help with Mental Health Services for Students

The first step for colleges that want to improve their student body’s mental health is to invest in it. So, how can colleges help expand mental health services with smaller budgets? Through Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF).

HEERF Grants for Student Mental Health Support

A Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund grant (HEERF grant) is a government funding vehicle that can be used for mental and emotional wellness programs for college students. As a part of federal emergency COVID-19 relief funding, HEERF provided $76.2 billion to colleges across the nation. This includes funds for CARES, CRRSAA, and ARP to address urgent student mental health needs during the pandemic.

The Department of Education is urging colleges to use mental health funds from HEERF grants to build or expand upon mental health services, programs, and resources on campus.

The Biden administration has recommended HEERF be used for the following best practices for mental health services in colleges and universities:

  • Expanding in-person mental health services
  • Strengthening remote telehealth services
  • Increasing student, faculty, and staff access to counselors and mental health professionals
  • Establishing resources to connect students to services
  • Adding 24-hour hotlines and mental health prevention/intervention training
  • Creating programs to expand mental health awareness
  • Implementing long-term mental health resources on campuses

The student mental health stats are alarming, and it’s essential for colleges to offer support through counseling and mental health programs for students as soon as possible. Schools using the government allocated HEERF grants can significantly expand on-campus mental health services, making help more accessible, especially for those currently struggling in silence.

Why Your University Should Use HEERF To Proactively Implement Mental and Emotional Wellness Programs

While mental health services are crucial, what if there was also a solution to implement proactive and preventative mental health programs through HEERF grants?

U-Thrive Educational Services programs provide college students with proactive mental and emotional wellness resources to help combat the mental health crisis on campuses across the country. Our programs are designed to help college students manage stress, become more resilient, and thrive throughout their undergraduate experiences and beyond.

Our innovative programs are a combination of education and intentional practices rooted in three main pillars:

  1. Positive Psychology: helps students lead more meaningful lives by applying psychological research on human flourishing and optimal functioning
  2. Mindfulness: encourages students to bring intentional and nonjudgmental attentiveness to the present moment no matter where they are or what they’re doing
  3. Self-Compassion: allows students the opportunity to forgive and motivate themselves to keep moving forward despite experiencing feelings of failure or inadequacy

U-Thrive Educational Services programs can be used as stand-alone programs or integrated into any higher education institution’s existing curricular or co-curricular offerings.

With HEERF grants, universities of all sizes can put mental health at the top of the priority list, implementing priceless and potentially life-saving resources that students will take away with them for the rest of their lives.

To learn more about U-Thrive Educational Services, contact us for more information or schedule a demo of our programs to get a first-hand look at how we can proactively help your students with their mental health.

About the author

Simone Figueroa graduated Cum Laude from the University of Florida with a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and concentration in Spirituality and Health. Simone graduated top of her class from Columbia University with a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology in Education with an emphasis on Mind-Body Medicine. During her studies at Columbia University, she took a year long practicum in Positive Psychology and became fascinated with and quickly saw a need for Positive Education, which led to the start of U-Thrive Educational Services.

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