At universities, colleges, and other institutions of higher learning, counseling center directors and other stakeholders are increasingly concerned about student and faculty mental health, and justifiably so. A burgeoning body of data and research has shown that there’s been a mounting mental health crisis on college and university campuses nationwide.
This situation is dire, which nearly all college counseling center directors have noted in the last few years. Of course, the recent coronavirus pandemic exacerbated the rise of mental health issues among college students and faculty. One study carried out by Boston University researchers found that cases of depression more than tripled during the pandemic, as reported by Forbes Magazine.
Nearly two years later, with the worst majority of the pandemic almost behind us, college faculty members and students still report high incidents of depression, anxiety, and other mental health-related ills. Even worse, these heightened mental health challenges might linger for a while.
Thankfully, most colleges and universities are putting more measures to tackle their campuses’ ever-growing mental health crisis. One such institution is Westmont College. The Urbana-Champaign-based Christian liberal arts school prioritizes discussions around mental health, and the visibility of communication, public safety, and student belonging.
In a statement released by the Westmont College Student Association (WCSA), the student body stated that it has already created a fully-fledged committee in charge of mental health. The initiative will be carried out per the WCSA’s mission to “represent our students’ diverse views, beliefs, needs, and desires.”
The push to increase discussions and resources toward mental health for students and faculty is part of WCSA’s ambition to create a welcoming campus environment. By forming a mental health committee, the WCSA wants to create an enabling community and atmosphere where each student, faculty member, or campus employee will enjoy a greater sense of belonging.
The WCSA’s mental health committee receives the mantle.
The mental health committee created by the WCSA has already made significant inroads in its core mission. In addition, it is actively involved in numerous initiatives and projects that would bolster mental health awareness on- and off-campus.
These include nudging the college administration to bring in more diverse counselors, and making communication more accessible with the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at Westmont College.
Westmont College Student Association aims to work with CAPS to speak for a broader range of voices and needs of the students and faculty. In recent months, the WCSA has leveraged its popular “Conversations that Matter” events to work towards boosting connection and communication within the student fraternity.
Hans Kehoe, the VC of Westmont College Student Association, has asserted that “Conversations that Matter” panels encourage the students to cultivate a sense of understanding and belonging throughout the campus. And by doing so, they can get the different ideas and take into account the opinions of both sides.
In last year’s fall semester, the “Conversations that Matter” panels focused their discussions on various topics, including climate change, Covid-19 vaccines, and events in the aftermath of the US exit from Afghanistan. In addition, the panels gear their conversations toward events, topics, and matters that might affect students’ mental health.
Take the first spring semester “Conversations that Matter” meeting. The event aimed to discuss the controversial “White Jesus” glass-stained window. The events that took place because of this stained-glass window emerged almost a couple of years ago.
The student leadership panels wanted to generate an opportunity for a campus-wide engagement and institutionalized remembrance of the event, considering that most directly affected students have since left the college. In addition, the stained glass prompted a campus-wide cry for urgent addressing of racial matters within the college. Therefore, the “Conversations that Matter” panels revisit the topic to ensure that it doesn’t cause students additional stress or anxiety.
Another issue that WCSA panels focused their discussions on was sustainability on the college campus. They intend to push the sustainability discussions to several future semesters, including spring and fall. Meanwhile, Dr. Marianne Robins, Dr. Heather Keaney, Dr. Amanda Sparkman, and other faculty members have made a point to meet with WCSA leaders to discuss initiatives made toward boosting student mental health and sustainability in Westmont’s campus.
WCSA was also able to pay for an internship for the college garden last semester. Another front where they are approaching the matter of sustainability is by installing compost bins in several kitchens throughout the campus.
The WCSA will host various sustainability-driven and mental health-focused events centered on important celebrations like Earth Day, World Mental Health Day, Global Recycling Day, etc. The student body president also hopes to raise additional funds for more mental health and sustainability projects.
Improve student and faculty mental health beyond campus.
Finally, students and faculty must stay on top of their mental health, not just on campus. After all, there are numerous triggers and sources of stress, anxiety, and depression off campus, including significant changes in life, alcohol addiction, overwhelming family responsibilities, and much more.
Mental health practices off-campus will also provide economical services to teens and college students, including the recently opened Geode Health Westmont practice, which offers therapy services to those in need.
Students and faculty members can embrace a wide range of other solutions beyond seeking counseling and other forms of professional mental health treatments. These include better time management, living a healthy lifestyle, practicing mindfulness, and surrounding themselves with positive reinforcements. More importantly, they should avoid alcohol and drug abuse and find ways to get more involved in their communities.
The Westmont College Student Association certainly touches on various aspects of campus and student life. WCSA holds a unique bargaining chip that it can use to take many different measures to curb rising mental health-related issues and improve sustainability. The WCSA has the longitude, which can create many additional opportunities for making the campus a safer place where faculty and students can feel valued, well-represented, and included.