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With college-age young adults facing a myriad of stressors, from student debt to social isolation, we’re seeing more severe mental health acuity and higher rates of help-seeking behaviors.

With college-age young adults facing a myriad of stressors, from student debt to social isolation, we’re seeing more severe mental health acuity and higher rates of help-seeking behaviors. As a result, higher education institutions are taking action by investing in more robust mental healthcare resources and searching for a new model of care for their students driven largely by the inability to recruit and retain on-campus mental health providers. 

“More severe mental illnesses start to present themselves during this age group and research has shown that identifying these disorders early and treating them effectively has a huge impact on outcomes,” says Nora Feldpausch, MD, Medical Director at Mantra Health, the preeminent digital mental health clinic for young adults. “College-age young adults are just starting to become independent and think for themselves for the first time, but many have no prior experience with the mental health system. They don’t know where to begin or how to navigate their mental health needs.” 

There’s a growing demand for more student mental health care, as more students face higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression, and it's becoming increasingly clear that every campus has a different need. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a private institution known for its prestigious academic programs, partnered with Mantra Health, in part, to secure more providers of diverse backgrounds, training, and specializations. Alfred State College, in contrast, wanted to widen access to psychiatric care, which was difficult to find in the remote New York town – and found that Mantra Health’s telepsychiatry program offered the most comprehensive clinical care.

Mantra Health knows the importance of campus-tailored care and has recently partnered with institutions including Juniata College, University of Tennessee at Martin, and Siena College, and recently signed a multi-year contract with one of the largest state systems in the country.  Since raising $22m in Series A funding in December 2021, Mantra Health has grown exponentially and now serves 105 campuses and approximately 800,000 students. Aiming to serve over 40 million young adults over the next decade, Mantra Health explores the reasons for investing in a company that specialize in young adult mental health care. 

Why do young adults require specialized mental health care?

Not only is suicide a leading cause of death among young adults, but 75% of all lifetime mental health disorders develop by the age of 24, which means there are thousands of college students seeking treatment for suiciditality and symptoms of anxiety, depression, borderline personality, mood, persistent attention deficit/hyperactivity, and other mental health disorders for the very first time. 

“To properly care for this generation, we must invest in mental health providers that understand the brain of young adults, the daily challenges they face, and the systems of care in which they live, work, and study,” says Andrew Hermalyn, an independent Board Member at Mantra Health, and the President of Partnerships at 2U, an online education company that partners with 230+ campuses to serve 45 million higher education learners globally.

Building a system of care within the college community that focuses on the specialization of young adult mental health care is vital. A recent study reveals the importance of this, as young adults experiencing serious mental health problems require a specific philosophy of care that supports them into the transition to adulthood in which independence is expected. This type of care may not always be provided by adult psychiatry, as young adults are dealing with emerging and pre-existing mental illness while at the same time undergoing significant life changes. 

In addition to being transitional age youth, students also identify as LGBTQ+, parents, part-time workers, international students, first-generation students, athletes, among other identities. These specialized populations require specialized care and Mantra Health understands this firsthand and is working with industry-leading partners to support these students. Recently, for instance, Mantra Health conducted a nationwide survey of athletic leaders with the NAIA, finding that 92% of respondents want to make psychiatry services available to student-athletes, and published a white paper on best practices for athletic departments

Why must student mental health be met with provider diversity?

“The mental healthcare system today isn’t designed for young adults. Many college students are still covered under their parents insurance, living on their own for the first time, and putting their trust into an institution that has promised to support them during this transitional period of their life,” says Ed Gaussen, Co-Founder and CEO of Mantra Health. 

Historically, many institutions turn to medical providers or community mental health providers to try to fill the gap. At a rapid pace, higher ed institutions are shifting their resources to digital mental health companies as a full campus well-being solution. One challenge is finding a diverse group of mental health professionals who have experience working with young adults within the college setting. The second is designing and building the workflow and data integrations to ensure the care team is knowledgeable about the campus environment where this patient lives, and can tailor care accordingly, and at scale.  

“Not all care is created equal,” says Dr. Feldpausch. “If you’re going to invest in additional mental health resources, make sure you’re getting access to a team of mental health providers who can provide equitable and culturally-informed evidence-based care to all of your students, no matter their background, race or ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, religious belief, socioeconomic status, mental health condition, or circumstance.”

“Beyond patient-specific care, Mantra emphasizes campus-tailored care, where we have custom tools and product features that empower providers with campus-specific knowledge and protocols that will be most impactful to a patient’s care. This is how we can keep expanding our diverse pool of providers while maintaining a personalized care model for each of our institutional partners,” says Gaussen.  

How do you track and measure the success of student outcomes differently?

Good assessment and progress monitoring is foundational to evidence-based care. Mantra Health starts with a holistic assessment of student symptoms, as well as their clinical history and social situation. Students who receive Mantra Health care are assessed regularly for common mental health symptoms with an additional focus on psychological well-being, flourishing, and factors that may hinder a student’s ability to stay in school.

“Mantra Health screens for a broad range of social determinants that can derail a student’s academic career. This model gives us a much fuller picture of how each student is doing so that we can support them in moving beyond just surviving toward thriving in college and in life,” says Carla Chugani, PhD, LPC, the VP of Clinical Content and Affairs at Mantra Health, who specializes in DBT and recently joined from the University of Pittsburgh. 

When it comes to the health and safety of students, clinical partners and student affairs leaders on campus need real-time communication and on-demand reporting to manage patient progress, and clear evidence of program ROI and population analytics to make the case for continued investment in campus mental health resources. At Mantra Health, we have a partner success, care navigation, and medical and therapy supervision team who use a variety of clinical measurements, screening tools, nationally standardized clinical protocols, and evidence-based practices to support counseling and psychiatric services, fill gaps in care, and meet the diverse needs of students. 

Why invest in a mental health provider that works exclusively in higher ed?

Far too many college students are battling undiagnosed and untreated conditions, avoiding help-seeking behaviors, or refusing care because it doesn’t fit into their schedule or match their preferences or needs. 

“There are only really a few specialized mental health companies that work exclusively with colleges and universities who genuinely understand the challenges faced by college students and know the value of embedding mental health services into the campus community that these students call ‘home,’” says Matt Kennedy, Co-Founder and COO of Mantra Health. “The average higher education buyer is much more discerning around population specialization and quality than when we entered the market in 2020.”  

Young adults aren’t just students. They are also part-time workers, parents, athletes, and individuals battling homelessness, financial insecurity, the justice system, and other hardships. If higher ed institutions want to encourage help-seeking behaviors, build resilience, and protect their mental health, they need to be willing to invest in their overall well-being and provide them with quality care that’s tailored to their specific needs.

Colleges and universities have a unique opportunity – and arguably, an obligation – to build more comprehensive mental health offerings that safeguard the health and well-being of their students, all of whom are on their way to becoming the next generation of leaders and stewards of our world.

Mantra Health is a digital mental health clinic improving access to evidence-based mental healthcare for young adults. Learn more about the company and how they work with higher ed institutions here

Thanks to our contributors Andrew Hermalyn, President of Partnerships at 2U and Mantra Health’s Co-Founder and CEO Ed Gaussen, Co-Founder and COO Matt Kennedy, Medical Director Nora Feldpausch, MD, and VP of Clinical Content and Affairs Carla Chugani, PhD, LPC.