Over the last year, the stressors of the two pandemics—COVID-19 and racial injustice—have negatively impacted the mental health of college students. Especially students of color.
Compared to 21% of White students, 34% of students of color indicated they were “very worried” about being exposed to COVID-19 on campus. Additionally, occurrences of racism on a daily basis have resulted in increased anxiety, depression and feelings of loneliness, the Steve Fund reported.
Even prior to COVID-19, students of color were less likely to seek out mental health resources. According to the Steve Fund, 26% of Black students, 23% of Asian-American students and 33% of Latino students with mental health struggles received treatment, compared to 46% of White students.
To break down the stigma and encourage more people to seek help, Togetherall, an online service, is providing students the opportunity to share their mental health challenges in an anonymous environment online.
By offering a peer-to-peer mental health community, students can connect with others who are experiencing similar experiences.
“Our major goal is to democratize access to mental health support, to try to reach as many students as possible,” said Matthew McEvoy, senior vice president and general manager of Togetherall in North America. “I think a lot of institutions are in a position to help do that. The pandemic has brought to light the need for this optionality. As demand for mental health services grows, there is a need to look at different ways to approach that.”
Conversations are monitored by licensed and registered mental health practitioners. Their job is stimulate conversations between students and identify available resources and to intervene if topics such as self-harm are discussed.
“We spend a lot of time with individual campuses to understand what else is available,” said McEvoy. “Peer support is really important but it forms a part of a broader approach to student mental health on campus. Our clinicians really help students navigate should they need one to one counseling support maybe through the campus counseling center.”
Despite being founded 15 years ago, there has been a recent demand for telehealth resources during the ongoing pandemic. Now, Togetherall works with over 200 campuses to provide two million students with access.
“Our Counseling & Student Development Center services are designed to help students grow in self-understanding — and we understand that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to student mental health,” said Dr. Kelly Kettlewell, director of the Counseling & Student Development Center (CSDC) at Bucknell University. “We are hopeful that by adding Togetherall to our toolkit, we will meet the mental and emotional needs of even more Bucknell students by opening a door to an entire community of peers they can relate to on a deeper level.”
Reed College, for example, plans to offer Togetherall as an extension of its current telehealth program, ProtoCall Services.
“In fulfilling our commitment to the health, wellbeing and academic success of our students, Reed College’s Health and Counseling Center prioritizes offering the variety of mechanisms that allow us to offer support that most strongly and effectively resonates with individual needs,” said Dr. Johanna Workman, director of counseling services. “With us having such a diverse campus community, the Togetherall platform checks off all the boxes.
Using their institution-provided email addresses, students can create an account for free. The anonymous element and ability to access resources 24 hours a day has attracted more diverse student populations than a traditional counseling.
“I think it is a safe place to come,” he added. “It is inclusive and welcoming. They are not alone. Our overarching message is that there are thousands and tens of thousands who are going through something similar. I think they can be comforted by that fact and get support from others who have been through that same experience or are going through something very similar at a really kind of critical and often difficult, particularly in a pandemic, time of life.”
Outside of offering Togetherall to students, experts say that colleges and universities must also ensure counseling centers represent the student population and offer around the clock access.
Since there is no “one size fits all” approach to support, McEvoy emphasized the need to meet students where they are.
“It is giving access to peer support, finding self-directed tools,” he said. “It is also ensuring that students are literate in terms of mental health. Spending time upstream educating and normalizing reaching out for support particularly among those students who are underserved or marginalized.”
Sarah Wood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.