St. John’s College in Annapolis is among 13 liberal arts colleges granted a collective $3 million to pilot projects to support students’ mental health and well-being.

In February, the Endeavor Foundation, an organization that provides grants in areas to promote societal and planetary good, announced the launch of a national collaborative tackling students’ mental health.

“The liberal arts have long provided us a way to think about the human condition, over time and in an ever-changing world,” Ashley Kidd, vice president and director of programs at the Endeavor Foundation, said in a statement. “We’re eager to see how these schools can build on the work on their campuses to help create new systems of thinking about and practicing mental health that are fully integrated into the liberal arts college experience.”

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More than 60% of college students in 2022 met the criteria for at least one mental health problem, according to a Healthy Minds survey. That was a 50% increase since 2013.

In a survey conducted among St. John’s students last spring, 59% indicated they were diagnosed with or treated for a mental health condition, according to Sara Luell, the school’s senior director of communications and operations.

Danielle Lico, vice president of student affairs at St. John’s College, said students always needed mental health support services, but the pandemic exacerbated the need with students missing developmental milestones in high school and disruption in their day-to-day lives.

“There was a lot of a lot of devastation in the wake of the pandemic. A lot of people had immediate family members who may have passed away or immediate family members who are very sick, or parents who were doctors or nurses or worked in the health care professions, or firefighters or first responders,” Lico said. “And the secondary trauma that comes from that kind of an experience, it’s hard to tell how that’s going to impact different people and different populations.”

Lori Collins-Hall, the grant project director and chief operating officer at Sterling College in Craftsbury Common, Vermont, said that the pandemic contributed to burnout in the health care and mental health fields, causing an increased need, but also decreasing access to services.

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“We used to rely a lot on external community mental health services for more intensive needs of our students,” Collins-Hall said. “And now, you know, that’s harder and harder for our students to access to. So, there’s a sense on the campuses that we need to fill a bit of that void.”

The 13 colleges, including Sterling College, Blackburn College in England, and Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, will collaborate to introduce mental wellness pilot programs that focus on four main goals: shared learning and active collaboration across all campuses, understanding how the liberal arts benefit students’ mental health and well-being, devising plans and proposals for implementing multicampus projects and developing a cross-institutional network of support, according to the news release.

After successful completion of the first phase, lasting two years, Endeavor will grant an additional $5.225 million over the next three years, during which the schools can advance their programs.

“All too often we see mental health as a personal challenge and forget the critical role institutions play in facilitating and supporting mental health and well-being,” Collins-Hall said in a statement.