Mental Health Initiatives at Rowan

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Article by: Hayley Lynch

At one meeting for the stress and anxiety support group, otherwise known as SASS, held at the Wellness Center on Rowan University’s campus, students participated in an exercise in which they wrote down whatever happened to be weighing on them.  They then crumbled the paper up and threw it at a target, as Allie Pearce of the Healthy Campus Initiatives office and one of the coordinators of the group described.  While the issues represented on the pieces of paper varied in topics, they aren’t isolated experiences, which is one of the reasons why the stress and anxiety group was formed last year.

“There’s a lot of validation knowing that you’re not the only one that feels stressed about whatever it is,” Pearce said.

In a survey conducted in 2014, the American College Health Association reported that 54 percent of college students were suffering from anxiety according to the Huffington Post.  Eight percent of those students contemplated suicide at some point.  Melissa Falzarano, the grant coordinator for Healthy Campus Initiatives, further explains via an email interview that the Suicide Prevention Resource Center lists suicide as “a leading cause of death in college students.”

“College is a huge period of transition for most students, and stress, anxiety, and depression are very common,” said Falzarano.

Pearce emphasized that these mental health struggles are not unique to Rowan, but Rowan’s approach can have its own quality.

“We need to get creative in how we address them,” said Pearce.

Rowan has set into motion a number of projects and resources to address the presence of mental health concerns within the student body.  Rowan’s counseling center followed in suit of Cornell University and introduced a concept called Let’s Talk where counselors station themselves in spots throughout the campus where students can come speak with them for 20 minute increments.  By having the counselors in different locations, like the student or recreation center, it becomes a less obvious session than only going to the counseling center.  Also, ever since its establishment in 2011 the Healthy Campus Initiatives department has been responsible for developing a handful of other tactics to handle mental health.  Along with SASS, some of their creations include Chill N’ Chat, a group designated to allow students to connect in a relaxing environment, and R U a Lifesaver, a suicide prevention program supported by the aid of the Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention grant that focuses on educating students and staff on how to speak with friends or others who they feel may be in danger.

“RU a Lifesaver has allowed HCI to normalize depressive thoughts and make suicide a less ‘scary’ topic to talk about with students,” said Falzarano

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While progress has certainly been made in pushing the discussion of mental health,  there is always room to grow.  More counselors are currently being hired, but it is still a known hinderance that there is typically a waiting list for the counseling center. And, as Andrew Assini, a licensed associate counselor, licensed clinical alcohol and drug counselor and instructor in the psychology department at Rowan, points out, with Rowan’s efforts to grow including the number of enrolled students, the number of those dealing with mental health issues will also grow.

“We can hire counselors all day long, but we need other avenues as well,” Pearce said.

Even though there is an overall consensus that the stigma often attached to mental health has been on the decline, again there is always room for improvement.  Assini specifically notes that this improvement could happen on a national level.

“I think there’s a general overall push to begin to address or at least acknowledge the presence of mental health challenges that people face.  If we go backwards 10, 20, 30 years or whatever I think we’re doing better.  I still think that really the mental health issues that we see with folks, especially younger folks, is more of a systemic thing,” Assini said.  He adds that, “Funds on nation wide basis could be more effectively or appropriately re-distributed in a way that addresses this mental health, the rising need for mental health services.”

For Rowan’s sake, in addition to the groups that already exist, Pearce hopes in the near future to see the formation of more groups as well as extending the amount of meetings the already existing groups have in an attempt to keep growing the campus’s mental health awareness.

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