Mental Health Services for College Students Boosted by Federal Pandemic Relief

President Joe Biden highlighted mental health concerns in his State of the Union address and this year has announced millions in investments in new student services.

April 7, 2022 · Updated on April 7, 2022

Edited by Darlene Earnest
Mental Health Services for College Students Boosted by Federal Pandemic Relief
Higher Ed Policy Opinion & Analysis
Photo by Kevin Dietsch / Staff / Getty Images News / Getty Images

  • The mental health of students is one of the primary concerns among university leaders.
  • COVID-19 and related difficulties have added to the mental health crisis.
  • U.S governmental departments are investing funds into programs to help students.

The Biden administration is investing COVID-19 relief funds into new mental health services for college students.

President Joe Biden called attention to mental health concerns last month in his State of the Union address. And, so far this year, his administration has made key investments in sudent support services through Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) grants and new investment in the Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention (GLS) program.

The investments reflect expanding discussion around students' mental health concerns, which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and amplified by social media.

Here’s how those investments will aid American college students still struggling from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Suicide Prevention Counseling on College Campuses

In his State of the Union speech, Biden said he intended to "get all Americans the mental health services they need." Days later, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced nearly $35 million to strengthen mental health support for children and young adults.

HHS funds seven grant programs, including the GLS Campus Suicide Prevention program, which will distribute $2.2 million for mental health services at up to 22 colleges and universities. An institution can receive up to $102,000, and they have until April 29 to apply for a grant.

According to HHS, grant funds must go to support evidence-based approaches that:

  • Enhance mental health services for all students, including those at risk for suicide, depression, serious mental conditions, and/or substance use disorders
  • Prevent and reduce suicide
  • Promote help-seeking behavior
  • Improve the identification and treatment of at-risk college students

Thirty-three colleges received GLS awards in 2021, according to HHS.

HEERF Expands Mental Health Services for Students

The Department of Education (ED) announced in late January that it would distribute another $198 million in American Rescue Plan funds through HEERF to colleges and universities in 2022. In guidelines released through the Federal Register, it encouraged institutions to use grants to invest in student mental health programs.

While schools could seek grants for other priorities — like providing childcare for students or subsidizing housing costs — expanding campus health services and other mental health supports was one of the uses the department highlighted.

ED gave an example of one school that used previous HEERF grant funds to achieve this goal.

According to the department, the City University of New York (CUNY) system used its grant to establish a new type of mental health support system. CUNY began offering 24/7 access to counselors through a crisis text line.

Heightened Need for Student Mental Health Services

Studies conducted early in the pandemic showed COVID-19 exacerbated mental health conditions among students.

By mid-2020, 60% of college students said the pandemic made it more difficult to access mental health services, according to a survey by the Healthy Minds Network and the American College Health Association.

Last fall, students continued to report a worse mental health status compared to before the pandemic.

The Center for Collegiate Mental Health found that generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and academic stress were all higher in fall 2021 than in fall 2017. The center used data from nearly 250,000 students seeking services from 85 college counseling centers during this five-year period.

College and university presidents have also continually sounded the alarm on this issue. A fall semester survey of leaders from the American Council on Education found that 68% of these presidents listed student mental health as a primary concern.