Ask an Expert About: College Student Mental Health

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Meet the Mental Health on Campus Expert, Lee Swain

Lee Swain is the Director of JED Campus and the JED Foundation

Mental health is an important topic. However, it can also be challenging topic to discuss, so we’ve invited an expert to share his first-hand knowledge on the subjects of mental health, depression, and suicide, specifically on the college campus. Lee Swain is Director of JED Campus and The JED Foundation. The Jed Foundation, or JED, is a nonprofit that exists to protect emotional health and prevent suicide for our nation’s teens and young adults.

With JED’s specific focus on suicide prevention for high school and college students, Lee Swain’s work with this organization makes him a leader in this field. Before coming to JED, Swain spent 15 years working in higher education, with experience in residential education, LGBTQ student services, academic coaching, conduct, and crisis management. Lee’s diverse background includes a BS in Animal Science and Secondary Biology Education from the University of Delaware and an MA in Higher Education Administration from New York University. Swain answered the following questions for TheBestSchools.org, and we are proud to share this expert interview alongside our guide: Preventing Student Suicide: Support and Resources for Students, Educators, and Peers.

Answers to Our Student Mental Health Questions

How has your organization helped students dealing with depression and suicide?

Lee Swain: The Jed Foundation (JED) is a nonprofit that exists to protect emotional health and prevent suicide for our nation’s teens and young adults. We use JED’s Comprehensive Approach, a public health, community-based model to develop and execute programs, resources and campaigns to support students. Through our JED Campus program, we proactively work with campus leaders and professionals to help create campus-wide prevention and intervention strategies, and advise on mental health policies, programs and services.

We are proud of the positive impact we’ve had on schools and their students. Today, colleges and universities representing over two million students are engaged in our process of assessing and enhancing mental health, substance abuse and suicide prevention policies, systems and programs through their membership in JED Campus. We have educated over 5,000 campus professionals in suicide prevention through conference presentations and webinars. Additionally, JED’s anonymous mental health self-evaluator, ULifeline, was used by over 30,000 students to assess their symptoms and receive customized information about how to seek help.

What can colleges and universities do to prevent student suicide?

Lee Swain: There are many things colleges and universities can do to help prevent suicide on campus. We believe in a comprehensive, public health approach to promoting emotional well-being and preventing suicide and serious substance abuse. Implementing a program that helps identify at-risk students, increases help-seeking behavior, and provides mental health and substance abuse services, among other tactics, can help mitigate the risk of student suicides.

Our JED Campus program was built on two guiding principles: First, support for emotional well-being, prevention of suicide, and serious substance abuse must be seen as a campus-wide responsibility and should not fall solely, or primarily, to the health and counseling centers. Second, on-campus efforts that promote emotional health, suicide prevention and substance abuse prevention must have support from leaders on campus, amplifying the message of commitment and support throughout the student body.

If a college or university is interested in joining JED Campus and receiving materials and guidance that can help prevent suicide and serious substance abuse on their campus, they can register here.

How could someone help connect a person who’s struggling with resources and support.

Lee Swain: It doesn’t need to be a grand gesture. Something as simple as initiating the conversation and offering your support can be helpful. You can also offer to connect them with professional support on or off campus. Additionally, you can save these crisis support numbers, which offer 24/7, free, confidential support, in your phone to share with someone you’re concerned about: Call 802-273-TALK (8255) or text 741–741.

JedFoundation.org provides more resources, info and tips on what to do if you’re worried about yourself or someone else.

What is the future of student mental health?

Lee Swain: Sadly, rates of suicide and self-harm, known to be a precursor to suicidal behavior, are increasing. JED envisions a future where every high school, college, and even employer of young adults has a comprehensive system in place that supports emotional health and reduces the risks of substance abuse and suicide. We’re encouraged by the increase in the numbers of people who are speaking up and sharing their stories and experiences to let others who might be struggling know that they are not alone and help is available. Together, we can make a difference by encouraging self-care, help-seeking and supporting one another.

What would you say to someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts or feelings??

Lee Swain: Please don’t be afraid to seek help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. There are people who care. I care. There is hope and you are strong enough to get through this. Help is available and it’s possible to feel better. Let me help connect you with a counselor or other mental health professional. I would also share resources like The Lifeline (call 800-273-8255), Crisis Text Line (text 741741) and JedFoundation.org/help.

If you’d like to read about other mental health issues impacting students, check out the following resources:

If you’re interested in a profession where you can help others struggling with mental health challenges, consider a degree in social work, counseling or psychology:

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