Health and Wellness from a Distance: What Kinds of Health Services are Available for Online Students?

Friday, December 24, 2021

What kinds of health and wellness resources do online colleges and universities offer for online students? Let's go through the importance of health in educational institutions and how to help online students through their studies.

Colleges and universities that offer traditional, in-person education are increasingly offering their students health and wellness services, as mental health is essential for students to be able to succeed in their studies. 

As regards online students, it is especially essential for them to have access to mental health resources, as they are exposed to other kinds of stressors and don't have access to in-person health and benefits services. For that reason, online colleges and universities are increasingly giving importance to this matter and making sure online students have access to health resources from the comfort of their homes.

Importance of Mental Health Services Availability for College Students

College students are exposed to many kinds of stressors, which make their learning experience harder to cope with. It's essential to offer students the help they need to go through these stressors, from everyday stressors, such as social media pressures, relationship problems, tiredness from their studying, among others, to more worrying ones, including the increase of school shootings and trauma from suicides and sexual assault.

According to a 2018 report from the American College Health Association more than 60 percent of college students said they had experienced “overwhelming anxiety” in the past year and over 40 percent said they felt so depressed they had difficulty functioning. These feelings may stem from financial burdens, uncertainty about career prospects, pressure to excel academically, and other stressors. 

Between fall 2009 and spring 2015, the number of students who visited campus counseling centers increased by more than 30 percent according to a 2015 report by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health. Many students today expect their colleges to help them cope. 

Step onto almost any of the best college campuses in the U.S. these days and we can assure you that you will be able to find whole offices dedicated to student health and wellness, specifically mental health and wellness. You will most likely find an office dedicated to Student Psychological Services. College resident Advisors (RAs), living in dormitories with fellow students, receive training so that they may act as psychological and mental health resources for their residence halls. 

Sounds like a pretty good deal, right? University staff and trained peer advisors working together to provide mental health resources for college students on campus. 

But what about students who are earning their degrees online? 

It is understood that on-campus resources are best according to professionals in the field, but what can we do for the students that rarely come to campus? Online students, whether part-time online or full-time online, don't spend their time on college campuses as full-time, on-campus students. Less time on campus means less peer to peer interaction and added barriers to accessing in-person mental health services that are easily accessed by on-campus students.

What health and wellness services should be available for online students?

Providing health and wellness services for online students is especially essential due to the nature of online learning, meaning that students don't have as many opportunities of peer-to-peer interaction as on-campus students.

The following is a list of best practices for providing student mental health services online from “Creating Web-Based Student Services for Online Learners” by Pat Shea and Sue Armitage.

Pre-enrollment services

On the web pages describing online programs and courses, self-assessment tools can be posted for students to evaluate their readiness for online programs. This “front-end” focus on the personality characteristics and work habits necessary for online academic success can assist in preventing problems after admission and enrollment. One study, of mostly online graduate students, found that students most at-risk for dropping out of online courses were those who were less motivated, had less-stable home study environments, and less computer confidence compared to successful online students. These are factors which can stress an enrolled online student and lead to mental health difficulties as coursework progresses.

Mental health education

Provide links to articles on issues common to college students (e.g. stress, fatigue, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse).

Crisis services

Prominently display phone numbers for crisis and/or suicide hotlines.

Self-help services

Provide access to tools for self-evaluation, with accompanying articles on strategies for coping with common mental health issues.

Referral to disability services

Provide links to the institution’s office for students with disabilities. Online students who are new to college may have previously unaddressed disabilities such as attention deficit disorder or learning disabilities.

Counseling services

Provide links to the campus counseling center and clearly state what services are/are not available to distance students. Feedback channels need to be in place to ensure that students or faculty who make inquiries for services receive a personal response.

If you are an online college student looking for resources, here are three tips that might be helpful.

3 Tips for Online College Students

1. Know your resources before you need them

Preventive measures are key when it comes to mental health, just as with physical health. When long-term stressors build up into an immediate emergency, it can become more challenging to identify effective strategies to address the problem.

Pay attention to your stress and what’s going on academically, socially, and personally, and try not to wait until the last minute to ask for help.

2. Explore the options available to you to discover what works for you

Limited distance counseling services do exist, but counseling is just one of many mental health care options. Your university should be able to provide online mental health resources and these resources can come in many friends. They may be self-help support apps, wellness apps, therapy assistance online sites. 

3. Connect with others

Even though online students surely live with others and have contact with family and friends, a student’s support system benefits greatly from the presence of peers who share and can empathize with their university experience.

We highly recommend online students to engage with classmates and instructors live whenever possible, both in and out of the classroom.

We hope you find this information useful and that you make sure you are getting the mental health resources you need.

Get Instant Information about the University

By clicking “Get Information Now,” I hereby authorize, their dependents, subcontractors, or associates to contact me in regards to education proposals offered by universities in the United States.