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Full Story

Dealing with the mental health crisis in higher ed

Feb 16, 2022

In recent years, the pandemic and general uncertainty has added to the mental health crisis across many educational institutions.   The problem has been well-documented and university presidents have identified mental health as a pressing issue over the last several years.

In April 2022, ACAPT and other members of the Federation of Associations of Schools of the Health Professions (FASHP) wrote a letter to Congressional Committee leaders to encourage the inclusion of health professions education and training programs in their legislative efforts to address the mental health challenges facing our country.

The Department of Education also released guidelines in May for colleges to use Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF) on campus mental health services. 

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program directors are discussing the severity of the mental health issues at their institutions - and ways they're trying to address it, including:

  • Integrating self-help speakers and resources within existing courses. 
  • Encouraging outreach between students at each year of the DPT program.
  • Faculty & administrators modeling behavior by taking breaks, seeking help and building in mindfulness.

We invite ACAPT members to participate in the ACAPT member rep discussion forum or clinical education open forum to share what your institution is facing and how your institution is handling this crisis. If you have other resources or ideas, feel free to also contact us at acapt@acapt.org.

Most common mental health issues include

  • Academic performance anxiety
  • Financial strain
  • Clinical performance anxiety
  • Generalized anxiety

Recommended actions

  • Identify what mental health resources are already available – make them widely known to students, faculty, administrators, clinical partners and others. Be sure to communicate your resources on a regular, ongoing basis; it's not enough to mention the options only at a student orientation.

  • Create an environment where students, faculty and staff feel safe to seek help.  Students have remarked frequently that faculty say one thing but the reality is different.  Active Minds and this article about mental health coping strategies for students are other possible resources.

  • Consider offering your faculty the Mental Health First Aid course from the National Mental Health Alliance.

  • Advocate for expanding access to online counseling/ support programs – especially for students at distant clinical sites.  Consider online counseling sites like Better Health and TalkSpace.

  • Share Your Nest - helps with student housing opportunities.

  • Offer mindfulness tools like the free UCLA Mindful App, Calm appHilarious World of Depression podcast.

  • Check with your health insurance and to see if they're offering any free resources or access to apps during COVID.

  • If your human resources department offers it, promote your organization's Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and consider offering a discussion board as a place to discuss burnout.  Sometimes, having others who know exactly what you are experiencing is the best resource for knowing that you are not alone.  An EAP can offer patient treatment options, problem solving and support.

  • Check out APTA's Fit for Practice initiative.

  • Be pro-active in creating response algorithms/protocols for mental health crises.
  • Set up regular meetings with advisors/mentors (at least once per semester.)
  • Ask your faculty and administrators what they need - including trying to reduce number of emails, holding shorter meetings, etc.

  • Consider providing financial literacy training.  APTA's Financial Solutions Center has a toolkit for educators to promote the resource to their students.
  • See these top five (5) recommendations for addressing student debt from the PT Student Debt Task Force.

ACAPT's Mental Health Task Force resources

Mindfulness for clinicians & students

Recorded events

More tips for responding to this critical issue  

Departments of Education and Justice released a fact sheet in October 2021 on how postsecondary institutions should respond to the mental health needs of their students, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Develop trauma-informed crisis management procedures that include an individualized assessment of the student’s circumstances.
  • Provide and facilitate access to mental health evaluations and services, including making efforts to reduce or remove barriers and negative consequences, including stigma, associated with receiving mental health services.
  • Reasonably modify policies, such as attendance policies, for individual students as appropriate.
  • Train staff to recognize and respond appropriately to signs of distress and suicidal ideation in students.

Other resources from the Global Forum for Innovation in Health Professional Education  (an organization that ACAPT sponsors) include:

Check out the Center for Excellence in Academic Physical Therapy


ACAPT welcomes ideas & solutions to help meet the needs of DPT programs. Submit your suggestions for continuing education, professional development, guidelines, tools, best practices and more.

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