Jun 25, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

As we know, mental health services for college students are critical to student success. So, how does an online student use campus mental health services without a campus? 

If the flexibility and adaptability of online learning work for you, but you still need some help, you're not alone, and there are resources you can use.

Here are four things you can do as an online student to get mental health help:

1. Check if the university offering the degree has an online mental health service

A 2015 Faculty Focus article quote Bonny Barr of Creighton University in from Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration "Providing online student services is an important component of these distance programs and is often required by accrediting bodies. Health and wellness services for online students are especially essential, as college students are accessing mental health services at increasing rates on college campuses."

Faculty are typically on the front lines of referring students to mental health services, which is tough when a student is working from anywhere else in the world. 

Barr explains that "colleges and universities should provide mental health services that are “'highly visible, have active links to related sites and pages, be focused on student needs, and always provide contact information for reaching a live person for assistance.'"

She argues that online schools need to advertise mental health education, phone numbers, email addresses, and any other pertinent contact information actively on the website so that students can easily access self-help services, counseling, mental health services, and crisis services.

2. Virtual clinics exist and can be helpful

ULifeline, an online resource for mental health for college and university students is one of many resources out there that can help students virtually. 

Virtual mental health clinics offer direct support for a variety of problems, outside resources, and links within your local community that can help. 

The 2015 study, "A Virtual Mental Health Clinic for University Students: A Qualitative Study of End-User Service Needs and Priorities," published in JMIR Mental Health, found that "online services targeting university students should be built on evidence-based principles, and streamline or simplify the help-seeking process for students."

Student participants in the study also "expressed a desire to connect with mental health professionals through the virtual clinic."

3Turn to help organizations

If the virtual world isn't going to work for your needs, turn outward and ask for it. Where do you start? If you're attending a strictly online school with no campus whatsoever, then you have a variety of options. Pick what's most comfortable. You could start with your local physician. Get yourself a check-up--and a referral. Another option? Places of worship. If you don't regularly go and don't feel comfortable asking for help there, ask a trusted friend or family member for some guidance.

Still feeling unsure? Call a local hotline. Someone on the other end will point you in the right direction.

If you have a campus, start there. Make an appointment with student support services. If you're not comfortable doing that, go get that check-up at student health.

Bottom line? You have to reach out and get yourself the help you need. See #4.

4. Don’t isolate yourself

If you want to isolate yourself and not talk about whatever is going on with anyone else, then that should be a warning: get help right away.

No family or friends close by? Not near a campus? Go directly to the nearest walk-in clinic, place of worship, or hospital and ask to talk with someone immediately.

People care. As long as you know how and where to find them, you can get the help you need.

Learn more about studying online.

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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