Shelter from the Storm
Care for the whole person means giving opportunities for students to flourish. It also means providing help when it’s needed—including with mental health. A conversation with Vice Provost for Student Life Jeanne Rosenberger.
It’s no secret that for college students there’s a crucial connection between physical and mental health and academic success. It’s also no secret that college brings intense challenges—from academic stress to lack of sleep, from relationships to anxiety and depression. Which is why Santa Clara is building on its longtime commitment to caring for the whole person—or cura personalis, in the Latin phrase—to broaden campus outreach and support when it comes to students’ mental and emotional well-being.
According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 11 percent of 18- to 25-year-old Americans—whether in or out of school—experience a major depressive episode each year. Surveys have found that more than 15 percent of college students nationwide experience either depression or anxiety. And while campus psychological services are there for students in need, the question naturally arises: What can we do to involve more of the community in outreach and support?
Here are some answers. Vice Provost for Student Life Jeanne Rosenberger talks about the JED initiative on campus.
What does it mean to be a JED Campus?
Jeanne Rosenberger: JED is an initiative to strategically focus on positive mental health and reduce instances of suicide and substance abuse. The comprehensive JED framework encourages a campus to take a big picture approach to identify areas of strength where we can create opportunities for programs or services that better support students and destigmatize mental health.
In May 2017, we completed a 120-item self-assessment of “What are we doing and how well are we doing it?” Following the assessment, JED suggested proven approaches to better serve our community, resulting in the development of a strategic action plan that will be implemented over four years. At the end of four years, we’ll answer the same 120-item assessment to see how well we’re doing. For example, we are working hard to implement educational campaigns specifically focused on reducing stigma related to mental health. As we assess our efforts, we should see a change in our response over the four-year time frame. Similarly, we want to increase student knowledge of the array of campus resources to support positive mental health. We would hope that in four years, more students report knowing where to go for mental health support.
Why is it necessary to look to an outside organization for help with an initiative like this?
JR: Certainly, one option would have been to draw upon campus knowledge and expertise to improve positive mental health. However, in reviewing all options, we found that the comprehensive strategic framework offered through JED would serve Santa Clara well. It’s not just programs. It’s not just services. It’s not just communication. The JED framework is a good match for a campus like ours—smaller, residentially based, with lots of opportunities for involvement and student engagement.
Where are some of the spaces you’ve seen JED already make an impact?
JR: JED is very specific. For example, they recommend that every web resource related to student mental health should be no more than two clicks from the homepage. Since we became a JED Campus, you can now find a link to “emergency info” at the bottom of every page on www.scu.edu that takes you directly to our crisis resource page. On every single page of the website. We didn’t have that before.
Santa Clara has also started offering QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) training for suicide prevention.
JR: And more than that, for the people who have taken the training—currently more than 1,100 people—we periodically send an assessment to determine if those who attended the training remember what the takeaways were and whether they have had an opportunity to use what they learned.
Another example is with the connection between physical and mental health and academic success. Beginning in fall 2018, we offered free fitness classes to all students. Since we track which of the students picked up the free fitness passes, we can also assess how the free classes are supporting positive mental health. By assessing these initiatives, we can be sure we have the right combination of programs and services that are changing students’ behaviors around referral or seeking help.
What’s the biggest challenge in helping combat stress and depression on a college campus?
JR: Part of what we’re trying to do is make sure everybody—whether they’re using services or not—at least knows what resources are available. We’re working closely with student government. We put a call out to the Greek community. We have CARE week coming up February 11–18. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. We are planning programs and events throughout the whole month.
The more students we can get to know about our offerings—whether they’re Community Facilitators, or ambassadors, or orientation leaders, or students in the Active Minds Club, or peer health educators—the more effective our participation as a JED Campus will be. The more direct knowledge we can infuse into student leaders at all levels, the better. I think that has been our best gateway—to have them say, “Hey, you know, I go see a counselor and it’s great, and you should, too—and it’s free, by the way.”
Destigmatizing mental health is where we will begin to see progress on our efforts because a whole lot more people are talking about it. We are off to a good start.