New Online Tool Illustrates Benefits of Investing in Student Mental Health
Published: April 17, 2019

A new ACE brief finds investing time and resources in student mental health makes good academic and economic sense for colleges and universities and society at large. Just how much those investments pay off can be measured using a new online tool created in collaboration with the Healthy Minds Network.

The paper, “Investing in Student Mental Health: Opportunities and Benefits for College Leadership,” uses empirical evidence from college student populations and examples from college presidents to examine how higher education leadership can advocate for and invest in student mental health. “The rise and prevalence of mental health disorders and their detrimental effects on academic outcomes are why addressing student mental health is important for the academic missions and economic well-being of institutions,” according to the brief.

A student who is struggling with mental health may struggle academically, according to the annual Healthy Minds Study, which found that across all types of campuses, students with mental health problems were twice as likely to leave an institution without graduating. This result holds even after controlling for prior academic record.

To assist campus leaders in researching and advocating for more mental health resources, the brief also shares a link to a simple online calculator. Institutions enter certain parameters, including population size, retention rate, and prevalence of depression, and the tool estimates the expected return on a new investment in student mental health, such as treatment services or preventive programs, by determining the amount of tuition dollars retained as a result of averting mental health-related drop-outs.

Campuses provide an ideal setting to identify, prevent, and treat mental illness during a vulnerable and important life period, the brief’s authors write. Understanding and addressing the mental health needs of college students helps shape healthier, happier, more educated, and productive campuses and graduates.

They offer the following recommendations and actions colleges and universities can take to prioritize student mental health on their own campuses:

  • Survey and listen to students and assess their needs.
  • Improve clinical services accessibility.
  • Consider integrating mental health promotion and prevention throughout the campus system.
  • Set the tone regarding mental health on campus through proactive mes¬saging, communication, and norm setting.

The Healthy Minds Network, based at the University of Michigan and Boston University, addresses the connection between the mental health of adolescents and young adults and their health behaviors, physical health, and social, educational, and economic outcomes. 

The paper’s lead authors are Sarah Ketchen Lipson, assistant professor in the Department of Health Law Policy and Management at the Boston University School of Public Health and co-principal investigator of the Healthy Minds Study, and Sara Abelson, co-investigator and lead for diversity, equity and inclusion projects with Healthy Minds. Co-authors are Healthy Minds study coordinators Peter Ceglarek and Megan Phillips, and Daniel Eisenberg, professor of health management and policy at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and director of the Healthy Minds Network.