Using the University that is Rethinking Higher Education to Rethink Mental Health Care for Students

I am a member of the Inaugural Class of Minerva Schools at K.G.I., as well as Minerva’s, Mental Health Services Programs Coordinator for Berlin and Buenos Aries. Which sounds great, but seriously, what the heck does that even mean?

Minerva is a new university that aims to reimagine the paradigm of higher education, based on the science of learning. All classes are seminars, with a flipped classroom structure. Meaning that we students, learn the content on our own and spend time engaging with the deeper concepts behind the material. Moving the emphasis away from the professor teaching and instead towards students learning.

All of this is facilitated by Minerva’s online platform where all classes take place. Every student (no more than 20 per class) webcams into class, where the platform allows our professors to more easily check how much everyone is participating in the discussion, send us into breakout groups, and live poll the class. Beyond being of instructional benefit, the online format takes away much of the typical costs of facilities development and maintenance that traditional universities place upon their students. Additionally, it allows Minerva to be a genuinely international experience. Our student body is comprised of students from over 40 countries. We live and travel together to seven cities (in as many countries) in cohorts no greater than 150 students.

This unique structure has brought together an amazing community, with potential for changing many of the ways we view higher education. However, there is one factor of higher education that I work most with, and that is students’ mental health and wellness! Minerva students’ have necessarily high work loads, a variety of cultures and constantly transitioning lifestyles, which makes it the perfect edge case to gain insights on how to improve mental health care in universities.

Accessibility of Resources:

In the U.S., a 2014 study found that the average ratio of university mental health professionals to students is about 1:2080. This means that students in need of counseling services face long wait lists and a low amount sessions, resulting in care that is often literally too little too late.

This has a simple fix: dedicate resources so that students who seek help can get it! The real challenge comes in getting students to value their own well being and to reach out when they feel they need mental support. 80% of students who commit suicide (the second leading cause of university student death) never come into contact with any staff from the counseling center. How do we address these issues?

The answer is Cultivating Care through Community!

This is where my work comes in. As a student working on the school’s mental health team I get work on changes that try and address mental health before it becomes an impediment to education. Currently, I am working on a training for students to learn how to better manage their self care and stress management. Additionally, we are adapting trainings from other universities to include aspects from the science of learning, and create a more lasting impact. A prime example of this is the Student Support Network Training (originally developed at Worcester Polytechnic Institute), where students are nominated by their peers to learn how to better understand their own mental health, as well as support friends by caring for them in crisis and connecting to the resource they need.

In addition, it’s no longer enough to focus solely on the counseling department’s efforts to improve students wellness. Our academic team offers periodic sessions with deans and professors to help students improve their writing, time management and other skills that can lead to increased stressed when not appropriately addressed.

The Student Experience Team has created a series of traditions that brings the student body together as well, to fight the isolation that can commonly occur when students transition into college. Every monday evening a different student takes a leap of faith and give their “Minerva Talk”, by sharing the story of their life so far. On Wednesdays students gather in small groups for Supper Clubs where they all bring some food to share as they explore questions that push them to be vulnerable.

While we still working on figuring out a lot of how we address student well being (and build this university) it’s become clear that the future of student care must be holistic and not just reactive.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts and also what you are working on! Please connect with me or comment below.

Twitter chat formats

Welcome, @Shajara!

I was doing a little research the other day into this group called WeCommunities  for health professionals - they organise dedicated regular twitter chats and  a recent one was “What is it like being a student mental health nurse?” They have it all archived should you want to have a look. I myself need to learn more about how it works, but it seems like there is a need for coping and sharing lessons as a professional too.

Online complicates matters

Welcome, @Shajara ! This school of yours sounds really advanced. One thing I don’t understand is how you make these support initiatives square with its online dimension. Supper clubs and similar cannot be used to string together onoine communities. We struggle with this ourselves at Edgeryders. What are your thoughts?

Communities are tricky. Internet definitely complicates things.

Hello, @Alberto ! I think I may have not been clear in that while my school takes classes through the online platform we do live together during the school year. Though you do raise an interesting point of how to facilitate a similar sense of community through online communities. Have been a memeber of a few I think a big mistake a lot of groups try and do is replicate in person activites, like a bunch of people just hanging out through webcam. And to me that will always fall short of the live in person dynamic. I think one answer is to organizng physical met ups based off of promitiy of people, which works to an extent.

But for me the best online communities I’ve been in have used the fact the memebers are so spread out to there advantage. I think a good example of this is Under 30 Changemakers, which hosts discussions and training through google hangouts. Instead of having broad web-chats they pre-choose discussion topics based off of community interests or world events and invite their memebers to bring in their perspective. That way people come in already invested in the topic and feel more connected to the community by interacting with members who share their passions.  Also, another activity that seems to go well it when people sign up to be matched with another random member for a skype session. The excitment of not knowing who you’ll met but that you have this one community incommon is pretty enaging.

Hope this helps!


@Noemi Thank you for sharing student mental health nurse twitter chat. It’s a bit confusing to naviagate, but I will spend some time exploring it!

Perhaps this approach designed by our students could help?

This project was developed during Hacking Utopia - a three month course on product design for social and demographic change. The course format was developed by Prof. Susanne Stauch (@Susa)  and Nadia EL-Imam (me) in a partnership between UDK (Berlin University of the Arts) and Edgeryders:

The Shit Show is an interactive pop-up exhibition designed to make the sensitive, ‘taboo’ issue of mental health more present and approachable to the public. Psychological struggles are still stigmatized, making it hard to reach out for help. We want to offer an alternative way for people to engage with the topic and develop mechanisms for support and resilience.

Mental illnesses are one of the most widespread disabilities worldwide. In Germany alone, 4 million people are affected by issues like anxiety or depression. Yet, it’s a secret we all share. Seeking help for psychological struggles is still strongly associated with shame. Even being sad or stressed or unproductive is seen as personal weakness. As a result, many people find it difficult to talk about emotional problems – be it a missed project deadline, a loss in the family or an eating disorder.

It’s easier to open up to someone who has similar problems and can empathize. But how to identify the people that can offer support when everyone tries to hide their struggles? Most people that are in emotional distress don’t decide to seek help until they have been in increasing pain for a prolonged amount of time. Only about 35% of people suffering from depression are receiving treatment. On average, 11 months have passed before even these few seek out professional help. The Shit Show is one approach towards addressing this pressing situation.

The students : Omri Kaufmann, Pauline Schlautmann, Luisa Weyrich and Nele Groeger are in here so you can contact them directly) (@Omri_Kaufmann , @Pauline , @LuisaWey and @NeleG )… I know they’re very passionate about the topic, and would love to bring this initiative to other Schools and Universities. They’re even running a crowdfunding campaign to finance the costs involved. Perhaps there is room for collaboration :slight_smile:

Shit Show

@Nadia Thank you for shairing this with me! I had heard about it breifly before, but didn’t really have a sense of what it was. Seeing the video and reading your description has definitly helped that! I think this is a cool project and would love to see some collaboration with my university and the students behind this. Also, it’s a happy coincidence that my cohort’s next semester is in Berlin, so half of our students will be there till mid December. I will reach out ASAP and see how we might bring this to Minerva!

Also, I am still a bit new to EDGERYDERS. Is there a way to contact all of the students together directly, like a group messaging feature?

Nope, no direct group messaging I’m afraid

@Shajara, the way to go is either let them know in public by posting another story - they receive notifications on email, or go to their profiles and message them via the Contact tab. I can send you a full list of their profiles. I think this last option is the fastest.

Thank you!

@Noemi, Thank you for clarifying that! I would appreciate that list, so I could reach out directly.

Worrying data about Irish students

Hi again @shajara!

I was reading this article and thought you might find it informative - results from a study on Irish students from 22 universities saying that a third go through mental distress and less than 1 in 4 look for support. So worrying. I’m now trying to get hold of the original study.

A mental health community initiative in Ireland that we know of is Cosain - a an organic healing centre by peers of all ages, running as a prototype in the city museum! - curious what you think.

Also new in the conversation since you were last online - a volunteer led organisation running twitter chats on mental health. Definitely check them out, maybe you can do something together as they are always looking for hosts!