By Parker Turner
On September 28 of this year, 1,100 empty backpacks covered the lush, green expanse of Northwestern University’s Deering Meadow. On some of the packs was the story of a student who had taken his or her life. As a part of the Send Silence Packing Campaign started by Active Minds, an organization devoted to young adult mental health advocacy, these backpacks serve as a reminder that over 1100 college students commit suicide each year. be a fitting topic for discussion. During the 2014In the face of this chilling statistic, Active Minds works to open up the national discussion about mental health, which faces a daunting stigma in the United States. Between academic rigor, abundant extracurriculars, and social pressures, college campuses are a hot zone for breeding mental health concerns, and Sewanee, our secluded mountain home, has not escaped this epidemic.
As fall turns to winter and a grey sheet settles over Sewanee’s campus, mental health seems to of students begs the question of how to tend to the 2015 school year, 20% of the student body (around 335 students) sought counseling through the University Wellness Center’s (UWC) Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), compared to a national average of 712%. According to the UWC Director, Dr. Nicole Noffsinger-Frazier (C ’97), this is a 10% increase from the previous academic year, a statistic that bodes well for the concern about mental health stigma on our campus. However, this influx needs of every individual seeking help, a question that plagues college campuses across the nation. Staffing, says Noffsinger-Frazier, funding, and a need for additional resources are some of the biggest hurdles CAPS faces in trying to decide how to tackle a rapidly filling wait list for appointments. “[CAPS] spend a lot of time in ‘response mode,’” says Noffsinger-Frazier, “which makes it difficult to focus on the education and prevention that we’re so passionate about.” However, the department is making strides to accommodate the increase in help-seeking. Facing this issue head on, the UWC has looked at numerous alternative clinical service delivery models. Last spring the University Wellness Center began a group therapy program and now wants to begin skills workshops in order to educate the student body about mental health and its effects. To confront the growing wait list, the Wellness Center has hired a case manager, Ben Craft, to meet with students in the first week of the student setting up an appointment. Craft’s position allows students to discuss options early and find help in the surrounding community should their situation demand extended aid.
However, for all the help that Noffsinger-Frazier and the University Wellness Center can offer, it remains up to the student to seek out that help. And seeking help is hard. This crucial first step is one of the hardest things someone dealing with mental health issues can try to take. It took me years to admit I needed that help. In the case of students who need to take time off of school to face their problems head on, a school as academically demanding as Sewanee, with a widespread expectation to graduate in four years, is hard to leave. For me, the decision to take a semester off from this amazing school did not come easily, but the school was accommodating and made the process as easy for me as it could be. Having been back for over a year now, I can look back and realize just how much the decision to seek help redefined my life. However, nothing would have happened had I not sought help.
So, this is where I challenge not just for those burdened with mental health issues to seek help but for the whole community of Sewanee to continue making this school a safe space for people who need assistance. Attempts such as the Sewanee Wellness Action Group (SWAG), a peer health education program that includes a program for mental health, and Sewanee Fail, a student panel discussing their own struggles, are already opening up our campus to alleviating the remaining stigma and difficulties surrounding mental health but more can always be done. “It’s better to get the treatment that you need as early as possible,” emphasized Noffsinger-Frazier, and that help does not necessarily have to begin in the Wellness Center. If your mental health is declining, seek out a friend, a trusted professor, a family member, or anyone you trust to talk to because talking about it is the first step to helping yourself. The community at Sewanee is beautiful in how open it is and I know that, if you look, you can find the help you need. (If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, anxiety, or any other mental health issues, please urge them to call University Counseling Services, 9315981325)