The author believes students and administrators must work together to change campus culture around mental health.
Last month, USA TODAY reported that Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, adopted a new mobile app that connects emergency responders with potentially suicidal students.
Although new initiatives to improve mental health services on college campuses for students like this are important, they are unfortunately not enough.
I hope that students do take advantage of this new technology, but I worry the positive press universities receive for throwing money at mental health issues make people think the problems have disappeared. Until students are ready to step up and make a conscious effort to change the campus cultures surrounding mental health, initiatives like these will have little impact.
My mother — and many others — often refer to my school, Northwestern University, as a “pressure-cooker.” It is a challenging work environment, where students even have to remind each other not to compete over whom is the busiest.
Last academic year, my school saw a rise in the number of students accessing mental health services.
The Daily Northwestern, where I work, repeatedly received letters to the editor and guest columns from students complaining about their experiences at counseling and psychological services (CAPS), particularly about long wait lists.
Last spring, on the very day that The Daily ran an editorial calling the school to increase mental health services, an engineering sophomore committed suicide. His death came only months after a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences took her own life while studying abroad.
The two student suicides at my school forced leaders to talk about mental health and make changes.
The school increased its budget for CAPS, approving the hire of three more full-time staffers. Orientation programming for freshmen highlighting the school’s mental health resources was implemented. But it should not have taken two deaths for students for action to be taken.
From what I see in the media and what administrators at my school tell me, Northwestern’s adaptations to meet a rising demand for mental health services mirror national trends and steps our peer institutions are taking.
But now that the administration is taking seriously mental health needs, I think the onus has now shifted to the students to change campus culture surrounding mental health.
I do not at all discount the need for professional mental health services, but I think students and student leaders need to be stronger in their calls for action. We need a peer listening service on campus.
Although the feature is commonplace at many top schools, Northwestern is dragging its feet on hiring a full-time staff member that could moderate such a program. I think if students knew they had peers they could turn to for assistance with some mental health issues, more students in need would reach out for help in a way that wouldn’t overwhelm the resources the CAPS office has.
As universities like mine struggle with the issue of mental health on campus, I call students to be more conscious of being available to listen to their peers and help friends in need.
In the days following the deaths of the Northwestern students mentioned above, students very vocally called for these services. But as time has passed and a new school year has began, those calls have died down.
Nationally, 44% of American college students report symptoms of depression, while 75% said they do not seek help for mental health issues, according to Healthline.com.
These staggering numbers need to change, and they won’t until campus stigmas surrounding mental health do. Although University presidents can budget millions to fix these problems, only we as students can change those stigmas.
We need to.
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