Using HERF to Help the Mental Health Crisis Facing Students

A recent National Institute of Health report found that an estimated 21.0 million adults in the U.S. had at least one major depressive episode, and the prevalence was much higher among individuals ages 18-24. Among college students that number unfortunately follows the same trend. The Healthy Minds network released a new study that found that in the last eight years, the mental health of college students has steadily declined with 135% increase in depression and 110% increase in anxiety from 2013-2021. This paired with the saddening rise in suicidal ideation that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that those 18-24 years old are 25.5% more likely to report considering suicide.

This crisis and staggering numbers aren’t going away. In a Student Voice Survey published by Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse, 65% of students rated their mental health as “poor” or “fair.” However, institutions often cannot simply treat every student who might benefit from therapy due to the gap between students who need counseling and the number of students who actually receive it.

Institutions often don’t have the clinicians available, and for some students they might not meet the criteria for a mental health diagnosis. However, each student will, at some point or another, need emotional support from procrastination, homesickness, breakups, academic stresses, etc. For many students, having a trusted campus support system that can offer tools and strategies to help students on campus to support their mental health from a faculty member, RA, advisor, coach, etc.

To support higher education institutions with this mental health crisis, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and the American Council on Education are urging institutions to use Higher Education Emergency Relief Funding (HERF) on mental health services on campus. HERF provided $76.2 billion to institutions as part of the COVID-19 relief funding such as the CARES Act. The Department of Education recently issued guidance on how HERF funding can be used to enhance mental health support

In particular, one of the recommendations from the Department of Education is to use HERF grants to, “pay for staff or contractor work to coordinate, plan, or implement services that continue to support student, faculty, and staff mental health throughout the pandemic and beyond. Such uses may include identifying and filling gaps in existing services, conducting needs assessment surveys, coordinating a cross-institution task force to better serve community’s needs, developing a long-term plan to establish a counseling center and training and hiring long-term staff focused on supporting mental health and substance use disorders.” In addition, these funds can also be used to address and support the “basic needs” that the Department says can be a “major contributing factor to poor mental health.

These guidelines from the Department of Education ensure that there are broad guidelines on how institutions can use HERF funding to address the ongoing mental health crisis. At many institutions CARE reports help address students of concern and ensure that an institution has a holistic approach to student support. With technology that can swiftly identify trends, students of concern, quickly forward students of concern to the right departments all with a few clicks, can ensure the efficiency of addressing these students. Using HERF funding, institutions can upgrade their technology that can elevate the support institutions can provide to students. 

For a holistic approach to student wellbeing, Symplicity Advocate paired with our full suite of solutions can ensure that each student across campus is provided with the right support they need, even if counseling resources are limited. Institutions nationwide can best serve their students during this time with Symplicity Advocate.

This includes seeing which staff member is working with which student, setting up virtual counseling sessions, managing workflow, and providing students with proactive tools to help them cope through this time and into 2023. During a time when the world is slowly returning to a “new normal,” students will need to have the support to effectively manage all that they’ve had to endure during this challenging time. Providing student wellbeing must be a top priority for all higher education institutions to ensure student success during and after the pandemic.

For more information about virtualizing student services, email or schedule a conversation.


Advocate, Mental Health, residence, students, Title IX, support, Mental Health Support, CARE Reports, CARES Act, students of concern, HERF

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