The college years — often romanticized as a time of learning, liberation and exploration — can also be, in reality, a time of stress, exhaustion, anxiety and depression. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 73% of students experience some variation of a mental health crisis during the undergraduate and graduate school years. Even more alarming, suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students.
To address these burgeoning mental health challenges head on, The Ohio State University College of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health has encouraged the community to consider a different conversation around mental health. One rooted in open conversations, peer-to-peer support, easy navigation to resources, and prevention and early action.
At the end of 2021, the department, along with The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, launched TALK, a campaign to prevent suicide, offering the community information and resources to end the silence around suicide and begin to break the stigma around mental health challenges.
According to K. Luan Phan, MD, professor and chair of the Ohio State College of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, this innovative shift is fueled by research that centers on resilience. Dr. Phan says that by identifying what makes people bounce back from — and even thrive during — adversity, they can apply these insights to develop tangible resources and interventions, so students and other young adults feel safe and supported accessing care at the first sign of trouble.
“We’re developing a playbook for building a resilient brain just like we have for a resilient heart,” Dr. Phan says. “And in the process, normalizing the need for cultivating social, emotional and cognitive resilience skills to weather the inevitable ups and downs in life.”
In partnership with Ohio State, a new $10.15 million funding initiative, the Jeffrey Schottenstein Program for Resilience, will develop a support system that connects students struggling with mental health challenges with those peers who have overcome them.
“People with lived experience have a lot of know-how to help others who struggle,” Dr. Phan says. “Cancer support groups are run by survivors. We need to connect students to peers who sought help and got better.”
Proposed new initiatives will help students to better navigate and engage existing and new behavioral health and wellness resources in multiple ways, including using digital platforms such as an app available on smartphones. A recent $1 million gift from Ryan Day, head coach of The Ohio State University football team and his wife, Nina, will fund further research around the science of resilience and fuel the development of new and effective resilience-building strategies that focus on prevention and complement and could improve existing treatments.
“The Nina and Ryan Day Resilience Fund will allow researchers to determine the factors that cultivate resilience, be they biological, psychological or social, with the end goal of creating new ways to intervene and help individuals under difficult-to-manage stress,” Dr. Phan says.
This move toward understanding risk and protective factors so they can be modified through resilience and prioritizing prevention is shifting intervention for behavioral health treatment upstream. This not only benefits students and other young adults, it also trains a new generation of mental health advocates and providers on this innovative model of care.