Supporting the Mental Health Needs of California Community College Online Students

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Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

The typical California community college online student is often managing quite a lot. Today’s environment is proving how difficult it is for students who are now expected to function almost exclusively online, to maintain a healthy work -school- family life balance. The recent May 20th, 2020 survey conducted by  The Student Senate for the California Community Colleges Senate (SSCCC)  revealed that since the Covid-19 pandemic began, and with the moving of their academic endeavors online, 67% of students surveyed reported higher levels of stress, depression and mental health related issues. Additionally, students also shared that many of them “are struggling with the move to an all-online environment, particularly those who depend on the services available to them through campus-based resources such as library, counseling, EOPS, college jobs, financial aid, grants, and health services.” SSCCC

Understanding our students’ ability and preparedness for practicing self- care is a key factor when it comes to encouraging them to seek out services appropriate to their needs. The demand for such services is even more apparent if the focus is on the online student population. By default, online students run the risk of being isolated from the support structures they once depended on as on-campus students. If we were to assume that online college students require access to the same support services that are provided on campus, plus a few additional ones unique to their learning context, then the need for colleges to provide increased access to those services online is a given. When a college invests in offering online mental health support, it is creating opportunities for practitioners to provide interactive solutions to engage students in a self-directed and anonymous way. One such investment would be to increase professional development and training opportunities for college mental health practitioners.

Self-paced Mental Health Online Courses from CVC-OEI/@ONE

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the issue; mental health practitioners were becoming more aware of their online students’ needs for their kind of support.  As a result, the California Virtual Campus-Online Education Initiative’s (CVC-OEI) Student Experience team was inspired to partner with experienced mental health practitioners from within the California Community College system to create the content for a dynamic self-paced course that introduces participants to multiple forms of distance mental health counseling. The course is designed for experienced mental health clinicians, and created to address the demand for more of this kind of professional development opportunities within our system. 

The self-paced Distance Mental Health for Clinicians Course offered by the CVC-OEI in partnership with @ONE; is a version of CVC-OEI’s popular 3-week Distance Mental Health for Clinicians Course. Through the course, participants learn how to identify challenges and potential solutions specific to distance mental health counseling. The course also educates participants on the legal and ethical guidelines for providing online mental health services. Any participant who completes the course will gain a greater understanding of the growing trends in online mental health services, and learn valuable strategies required when working with community college students online.

There are many benefits that come from having college mental health practitioners trained in providing online support. Expanding mental health services online contributes to greater equity by having the potential to reach a wider group of students, some of whom may never have sought out such services while on campus. By incorporating web-based technology in their professional repertoire, college mental health service providers have the opportunity to deliver non-intrusive treatment to a wider audience of students who may be dealing with health and wellness issues ranging from mild problems to those with more severe challenges. Equally important, having a trained professional who can relate to the “newness” of functioning in the online learning environment, which many students experience,  can create a bond and help generate successful results in treating students. Additionally, for some students, the anonymity that comes from receiving such services online can provide comfort and confidence for those concerned with the stigma and perception associated with being seen entering the Mental Health Office on campus. 

It is essential that we increase the number of opportunities for online mental health and wellness support and equally important, that students are made aware of their options when it comes to receiving such support. The Distance Mental Health for Clinicians Course is open and free to all.

Posted in counseling, Student Support Services.

Bonnie Peters has spent the last 19 years in the California Community College system serving in various student services positions such as counseling, teaching (on-campus and online), and Educational Leadership (on-campus and online). As of 2014, she has been serving as the Chief Student Services Officer/Director of Student Experience for the California Virtual Campus- Online Education Initiative (CVC-OEI), providing administrative and programmatic leadership for the CVC-OEI Online Student Experience Division. She holds both an M.S. in Counseling and M.A in Teaching and Learning with Technology.

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