Resources, Relationships, & Vulnerability: A Convening of the Trellis Foundation Postsecondary Mental Health & Wellbeing Learning Community
Last summer, Trellis Foundation and the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute launched the Trellis Foundation Postsecondary Mental Health and Wellbeing Learning Community as part of an innovative strategy to strengthen support for student mental health on college campuses. In February 2023, we convened the member cohort and national technical assistance providers for the Learning Community (The Jed Foundation, The Steve Fund, and Active Minds), along with national and statewide postsecondary mental health leaders and philanthropic grantmakers, for a day-long event in San Antonio to collaborate on improving student mental health and success.
The overarching goal of the convening was to bring together Learning Community members to share lessons from the field, provide support and encouragement for program implementation, and highlight innovations in evidence-based mental health practices and policies, including peer support, community partnerships, and culturally responsive services.
Three themes echoed throughout the convening: resources, relationships, and vulnerability.
Participants spoke about how their challenges and successes hinged on institutional support, specifically leadership buy-in and investments of institutional resources.
- A core takeaway was the need to secure support from campus decision-makers, both in terms of financial resources and policies that support student mental health.
- A key strategy for securing leadership buy-in is communicating the clear link between student mental health and academic achievement, with an emphasis on the return on investment institutions receive from providing campus mental health services.
- Another best practice is proactively planning for sustainability—especially when programs are launched using time-limited funds such as grants—and engaging leadership in those discussions.
It takes one mental health crisis to lead to postsecondary attrition. To support persistence and graduation, it is critical to invest institutional resources into mental health services and supports.
Relationships are critical to effective postsecondary mental health systems. This includes relationships between the institution’s leaders, faculty, staff, and students, as well as external community partners.
- Many Learning Community members have conducted assessments as part of their two-year projects. Through these, institutions have identified critical student needs not being addressed and have partnered with community organizations to provide wraparound services covering basic needs, such as housing and food, in addition to specialty mental health care services not offered on campus.
- Some schools have experienced success with a warm hand-off to off-campus partners, while others implemented telehealth options or brought external providers directly onto campus grounds. Recognizing needs specific to the campus ecosystem, identifying appropriate community partners, and formalizing and nurturing those relationships over time is a challenge that requires ongoing, intentional effort on behalf of postsecondary institutions and their decision-makers.
- Learning Community members expressed the importance of collaborating with academic and other student service departments to develop strong cross-campus mental health promotion programming and referral pathways. This type of cross-departmental relationship building has been a core part of successful efforts to increase uptake of services among students.
- Finally, building trust and relationships with students is critical to promoting help-seeking behaviors and engagement with campus mental health and wellbeing programs, such as peer support and guidance initiatives. Developing this trust requires an emphasis on culturally responsive programming and innovative approaches to mental health promotion. Listening and responding to student needs, especially those of underserved students. Taking a flexible approach to building relationships with students can help institutions adapt to changing campus ecosystems and generational differences across their student bodies.
It was clear from the convening presentations that this work requires vulnerability from everyone involved.
- For leadership, this means listening to students and truly centering campus mental health efforts around the voices and identities of a diverse student body, particularly low-income students, students of color, LGBTQ+ students, international students, and youth formerly in foster care. It also means, as a campus, actively finding ways to bring mental health into all aspects of the institution.
- For staff, this means recognizing the emotional toll that supporting student and staff mental health can take on providers over time, and regularly checking in with oneself and colleagues, in addition to building workplace cultures that emphasize mental health and recognition of internal biases.
- For everyone, it requires recognizing that implementation is messy and setbacks are inevitable. Vulnerability in the context of program implementation means being open to failure and recognizing it as an opportunity for program improvement. Analyzing data trends and patterns and having hard conversations about what isn’t working, then modifying those campus supports and services to meet the shifting needs of the student body is critically important.
This Trellis Foundation Postsecondary Mental Health and Wellbeing Learning Community is just getting started and has over a year of exciting training, convenings, and difficult but empowering discussions ahead. Learning will continue to be shared with the broader field, and we cannot wait to see the impact of these innovative institutions’ work on postsecondary mental health.
For even more information on learnings from this community, watch Lumina Foundation’s March 2023 podcast on Addressing Mental Health on College Campuses, featuring Jenny Achilles from Trellis Foundation, Leilani Lamb from the Meadows Institute, and Learning Community members Dr. Nina Enriquez from University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and Allexa Zwinck from Amarillo College and the Panhandle Partnership.
If you would like to learn more about the Learning Community, please contact Jenny Achilles at Trellis Foundation ([email protected]) or Leilani Lamb at the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute ([email protected]).
Learning community conveners (Trellis Foundation), facilitators (Meadows Institute), and national technical assistance providers (Active Minds, The Steve Fund, The Jed Foundation) after the Trellis Postsecondary Mental Health and Wellbeing Learning Community convening at Alamo Colleges District.