By Len La Rocca
The College will update mental health resources after the last academic year consisted of four student deaths, a racial intolerance incident and a student stabbing at an off-campus house.
This past May, a confidential wellness survey went out to all students via email in an effort to evaluate mental health resources at the College.
Mark Forest, the director of Counseling and Psychological Services and assistant vice president for Student Affairs, Health and Wellness, sent the survey to students, along with Jen Sparks and Carole Kenner, the director of the Center for Integrative Wellness and the dean of the School of Nursing, Health, and Exercise Science, respectively.
Going into the fall with increased staff, streamlined procedures and new programs, Mental Health Services looks to strengthen a welcoming foundation of support to help students cope with trauma in the future.
Although Forest could not give specific details due to confidentiality, he helped shed some light on the future of mental health resources for students.
“The past year was a very difficult one for the entire campus community,” Forest said. “Any trauma on campus reverberates throughout the TCNJ community in a myriad of ways, but when there are multiple seemingly back-to-back traumas, it amplifies the reaction significantly.”
Forest offered general statistics from the student wellness survey, and said that many of those who responded have not utilized resources on campus due to a lack of awareness.
The survey, which received 513 responses, according to Forest, showed that approximately 40 percent of the respondents had not used any of the services.
“A common theme among comments was a lack of awareness of available resources,” he said. “Historically, advertising and educating students via social media, health and wellness events and student involvement are run throughout the academic year. We will continue to explore new ways to promote available resources to our campus community.”
Nevertheless, last year’s tragedies resulted in a surge of students turning to resources in hopes of recovery. The sudden spike of traffic proved to be a lot to handle.
“The mental health resources on campus were pushed to their limits this past year as we increased efforts to offer postvention services to those most impacted,” Forest said. “This included both increased individual and group sessions, debriefing and postvention sessions for groups affected.”
Yet, the surge did not lower the quality of the experience at CAPS, according to its internal satisfaction survey.
“Response to our internal CAPS satisfaction survey, which is given to everyone who uses the service, was quite positive this year and slightly higher than the prior-year — 4.55 out of five compared to last year’s 4.33 out of five,” Forest said.
This fall, the College community will see proactive changes to Mental Health Services, including full staff with two new members who will work on outreach to students underutilizing services, streamlining the process to access services, increasing the number of new clients every week and increased case management services for students in need of long-term care.
Student Affairs has also made strides over the summer, including a suicide hotline specifically for the College through a partnership with Mercer CONTACT.
“CONTACT will offer free on-campus training to TCNJ students interested in volunteering to answer hotlines,” Forest said. “The hotlines will include the CONTACT line, a national suicide prevention line and a TCNJ specific hotline for students needing support.”
Student Affairs has also created a new suite for recovery in the Recreation Center.
“A grant-funded capital project allowed us to build a new Recovery and Wellness Suite within the Recreation Center,” Forest said. “The Recovery and Wellness Suite will have a grand opening in September.”
The Center for Integrated Wellness will be implementing “long-term counseling options to include holistic, integrative health services,” Forest said. In coordination with the Anti-Violence Initiative, the Center for Integrated Wellness will be launching a new program this fall called AmIOK.
AmIOK will be free and confidential to aid students who have fallen victim to a violent crime. This program will offer 24/7 medical assessment, transportation to the local emergency room if needed, information on the legal options going forward and counseling for the student and their loved ones, according to Forest. AmIOK will be a confidential service with a private entrance at an unmarked location.
While administration has unveiled upcoming changes, some students feel that these adjustments are what is necessary at the College now.
“It’s great that TCNJ has made positive, impactful strides to aid and help those in need in regards to mental health,” said Matthew Long, a senior psychology and special education dual major.
Senior computer science major Ethan Zeigler felt that updating services will increase the number of students who use it when necessary.
“It’s great that they’re offering more specific help for certain things like violent crime that happens on campus,” Zeigler said. “It’s rare, but it happens.”