Campus responds to mental health programs

By Garrett Cecere and Jane Bowden
Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor

When Quint Meredith, a junior business management major at the College, began drinking at age 16 to help him socialize with other people, he didn’t think he’d develop substance use disorder, nor did he think recovery would ever be an option.

“I was anxious. I had a hard time talking to people,” he said. “But the drinking just … made me really able to open up. The first time I drank … was life-changing. At the time, I didn’t want to get sober. I equated being sober with being miserable. But that’s a result of substance use disorder.”

Peer educators help students with de-stressing (Instagram).

After repeatedly entering 12-step programs at age 18, Meredith’s family held an intervention, and his mother presented him with an ultimatum.

“(She said), ‘you can go to treatment, or we’re not gonna support you,’” Meredith said. 

His mother’s words compelled him to seek sobriety — which he achieved four years ago — and later start his next goal: to earn a bachelor’s degree from the College. 

Meredith, now 24, has found comfort in the College’s community that has surrounded him since transferring from LaSalle University this past spring — and Meredith isn’t the only one.

Across campus, students who struggle with their mental health — whether it be substance use disorder, depression and anxiety or general stress — use the College’s services for support and reassurance that they’re not alone.

“The demand for mental health services has been increasing steadily over the years,” said Mark Forest, the director of Mental Health Services. “We’ve been trying to address that.”

MHS, previously known as Counseling and Psychological Services, has increased its staff by 35 percent since 2014, according to Forest. Now consisting of eight full-time clinicians, four professionals or graduate students in training and one part-time psychiatrist, MHS is accredited by the International Accreditation of Counseling Centers. The IACC is an organization that sets standards for student-to-counselor ratios (one full-time counselor for every 1,000 to 1,500 students) at higher-education facilities. 

In response to last year’s racial bias incidents and the deaths of multiple students and a staff member, MHS has also revamped the College’s immediate care response, which now includes more specific protocols and a campus-wide post-vention team that immediately assesses and supports the campus.

“It was a brutal year in many different ways,” Forest said. “When something like that happens, there are ripple effects throughout the community … and what that means is there’s an influx in the demand for (Mental Health) Services.”

To accommodate the flow of students who need immediate care, MHS increased its Available Initial Spot program, in which after an individual fills out a Request for Services form either for themselves or for another, one of the two assistant directors will rapidly assess the severity of the situation and immediately schedule an initial consultation to figure out the next step, according to Forest. 

Also motivated by last year’s events, Brittany Mariah, a junior elementary education and psychology dual major, has been working with Active Minds to create stickers that include the National Suicide Hotline and Text Crisis Line phone numbers. Starting in the spring, the stickers will be placed on every new student’s ID, and the phone numbers will soon be permanently printed on each card when the College orders its next batch, according to Forest.

“Students need immediate access to mental health resources when they’re in crisis,” Mariah said. “I wanted to eliminate the number of steps a student would need to make to get the information they need. The more direct we make it for students, the more likely they’ll not only use the resources, but know we are here for them.”

Forest said its collaboration with students, such as Mariah, and other community members can help raise mental health awareness and support across campus. 

“Mental Health Services can’t do this work alone,” Forest said. “We literally need to partner with virtually every other department on campus, faculty, other staff members, students and student groups to come together to address what is really a national (mental health) crisis.”

A study published by the American Psychological Association shows that the number of mental disorders and suicides has increased in adolescents and young adults, especially women, within the last 10 years.

The Lions’ House provides substance-free housing on campus (Garrett Cecere / Editor-in-Chief).

However, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 43.3 percent of U.S. adults who have a mental disorder received treatment in 2018 — a trend that can be seen at the College as more students, such as Meredith, become involved in services like the Collegiate Recovery Program.

Before Meredith transferred, he applied for one of the College’s scholarships for people in recovery, through which he learned about the CRP’s Lions’ House, which offers a substance-free environment for residents on campus.

When Meredith applied to the College, he wrote in his essay that he had been in recovery. Through an admissions employee’s recommendation, he contacted Christopher Freeman, the head of the CRP. Giving students in recovery the support they need, the CRP also provides individuals with counseling.

Within the program, members of the Collegiate Recovery Community, a club that promotes substance use disorder awareness and recovery, have found comfort in discussing their struggles, which they are able to do through the weekly all-recovery meetings.

Although some members have received counseling in the past, many have said that the meetings and the program itself act as therapy, including the organization’s vice president of advancement, senior psychology major John Brezina. 

Brezina was first introduced to MHS during his freshman year, when he began using it to help with his anxiety and depression. Since seventh grade, he had sporadically used therapy. Then, in high school, he lost two close friends — one to an overdose and the other to a suicide. 

“I was kind of only ever in (therapy) to deal with big situations that were occurring. I was never in it consistently,” Brezina said. “I’m sure there were points for … freshman and sophomore year where I was … popping in and out when I felt like I really needed help.”

Since the end of his junior year, he has used the College’s services on a more routine basis, a habit that he has found to have long-term benefits.

“I started using it more consistently, with trying to establish a routine of therapy for myself,” he said. “I’m not just treating issues as they arise, but helping myself work towards … preventing them.”

Brezina has appreciated the help he has received from MHS. According to him, his counselors have been proactive in ensuring that he gets therapy when necessary, including during the summer and breaks in the semester.

“When this past spring semester ended, a couple weeks before, the counselor who I was seeing … was working with me … to be set up with a counselor for the summer,” he said. “I would be able to transition seamlessly and still have that assistance.”

To support students like Brezina, MHS has a variety of services that are focused on a diversity of topics, such as one-on-one therapy and group therapy. Covering over 20 different mental health topics — such as eating disorders, sexuality and stress management — group therapy has proven to be one of the most beneficial programs on campus.

“Not only are you benefitting from the feedback from the therapist in group, but you’re also both getting feedback from other group members, (and) you’re also supporting and giving to other group members,” Forest said. “(Group therapy is) an interpersonal situation, so that tends to facilitate improvement in relationships overall.”

Another mental health program offered by the College is the Center of Integrative Wellness. Located in Forcina Hall, CIW provides students with low-cost, longer-term counseling by graduate students from the Schools of Education, Nursing, Health and Exercise Science and the Department of Public Health. 

One student who hopes to attend the College’s graduate school is Julia Richards, a senior psychology major who hopes to get her license in professional counseling and work with children.

In pursuing a career in counseling, Richards recently became involved with the College’s MHS peer education program. The program consists of approximately 15 students who aim to advocate for mental health and educate groups on campus. According to Richards, one way to accomplish that goal is to give presentations to freshmen, as well as other groups that may request them, such as residence halls and fraternities.

“(For freshmen, we go over) the statistics of … college students and what they go through — anxiety, depression, homesickness. And we do it through tabling and events to address those issues,” she said.

However, in presentations for fraternities, the subject may expand to different issues that aren’t as widely discussed, such as men’s mental health.

“When I presented, we had them … talk about why they think that they have a hard time reaching out for help,” Richards said. “Men have these … standards that they have to live up to — that they have to be tough, that they have to be strong, that they can’t cry, that they can’t show … any sort of weakness. And we’re telling them … it’s OK to.”

The program has also assisted in organizing events, such as the Stigmonologues, which Richards attended both this year and in 2018. The annual event aims to break the stigma surrounding mental health by having students share their experiences, which Richards thought was an important aspect of the Stigmonologues.

“Everyone has mental health,” she said. “You may not have a mental illness, but you have mental health, and hearing from your own peers — students who may be going through the same thing — is really important and meaningful because they know you’re on the same page as them. You know what it’s like to be a student here, too.”

In hearing many students speak about their struggles with mental health, Richards felt that the event served as a reminder to people that they are not alone.

“A reason why people don’t speak out is because they think they’re in this alone, that they think, ‘this isn’t really an issue, this is just me,’” she said. “But seeing that they’re not alone and that other people, other students go through this, makes them feel like they’re not alone and … they can get through it.”

For students who continue to use the College’s programs like Meredith, there is a hope that people struggling with mental health issues or substance use disorders continue to seek recovery.

“Never give up,” Meredith said. “No matter how dark it seems … I’ve been through some dark times, but hope’s gotten me through it.”

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