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Student Well Being is Top Priority for USciences’ SHAC
Written by Jenna Pizzi
Published on September 26, 2017
For college students cramming for exams and trying to find enough time to complete a course’s required reading, it can be easy to focus on physical health at the gym or in the dining hall, but mental health may be an afterthought. However, mental health issues on college campuses are not uncommon; for example, the American College Health Association reports over half of college students report feeling overwhelming anxiety over the course of a year.
This semester, Student Health and Counseling (SHAC) is working to bring more attention to the importance of mental health care and suicide prevention on campus.
SHAC will roll out new campaigns related to improving mental health and breaking down stigma about seeking help. The office is also working to make gatekeeper training available to students, faculty, and staff. The training will provide these groups with the tools required to identify the signs and symptoms of students in distress, what to say, and how to connect students in need with professional help.
These types of actions, in addition to much else that SHAC is already doing, were recommendations of the Joint State Government Commission on College Student Suicide as detailed in a report released in June 2017, as well as the Jed Foundation’s Campus Program, which USciences has been participating in since fall 2015.
“No student should ever feel like they are alone,” said Alissa Brown, PsyD, associate director of counseling and coordinator of graduate training at SHAC, who also served on the Joint State Commission and contributed to the report.
“The Jed Foundation has recognized USciences as a leader in providing mental health services to students, but we still have more room to grow as a campus community in our health promotion efforts,” Dr. Brown said.
One such recommendation was for campuses to increase data collection. Last semester, SHAC asked students to participate in the Healthy Minds Study, a national survey specific to higher education, to evaluate the state of mental health on campus, giving SHAC data about USciences students.
Thirty-seven percent of students participated in the survey, a higher response rate than the national average.
“We wanted to get more data about mental health issues on our campus and determine what needs students have that we can address,” said Gauri Saxena, PhD, staff psychologist at SHAC. “The results indicate that our students are more aware of where to seek services than the national sample and those students that do seek services are very satisfied.”
However, the survey also showed that USciences students are more likely to seek help from peers and less likely to seek help from a professional than the national sample.
“This is why it is important for us to train students, staff, and faculty about what to do and say when they encounter someone in distress and how to get them connected to resources,” said Dr. Saxena. “Many students struggle on some level, and that’s not abnormal. If we know better how to talk to each other about it, our students are likely to have a better experience here.”
The study also showed that USciences students are pretty resilient compared to the national average. Students on campus are either as distressed or less distressed than campuses across the nation, but those who are distressed report having more academic impairment than the national sample.
Regarding the stigma of seeking professional mental health counseling, very few students reported negativity towards people who receive mental health treatment. Many more survey participants reported thinking that others have negative feelings towards people seeking mental health treatment.
“The results of the Healthy Minds Study open up more questions, and we will use the data moving forward,” said Dr. Saxena, adding that the data will be further analyzed by students, staff, and faculty to better understand mental health on our campus and to continue improving health and wellness at USciences