Have you noticed a decline in your mental health within the past year? If the answer is yes, you are not alone.
Within the past year and a half, Sacred Heart University has seen more request leaves of absence related to mental health than the past three to five years, according to Larry Wielk, Dean of Students.
“The number of students who take a mental health leave may be going from what might have been in the past an average of three per semester to 16 to 20 or more,” said Wielk.
Covid-19 was a large contributing factor to this mental health crisis, according to Wielk. The pandemic may not have been the direct cause of these mental health issues, he said; however, it was certainly a catalyst.
“Mental health issues were increasing in our country even before the pandemic,” said James Geisler, Director of Student Wellness Services. “Add missed opportunities, various restrictions, isolation, lack of structure, to name a few, and you have a recipe for mental health to be at risk for some form of deterioration.”
In response to this, Sacred Heart has taken several courses of action including their recent partnership with the JED Foundation, the Healthy Minds Study (HMS) and the “You at College” app.
“We’re still not 100 percent sure that we’re meeting the needs of our population or meeting them appropriately,” said Wielk. “That’s part of where JED comes in.”
JED is a nonprofit organization focused on protecting the emotional health of students and suicide prevention efforts.
“This is a four-year partnership that we hope contributes to sustainable outcomes well after the four years we are working with JED,” said Geisler.
In addition, Sacred Heart is launching the HMS survey, which is embedded within the JED initiative. This assessment will target the unique demands of students, as JED provides recommendations based on on-campus needs.
“I cannot stress enough how important it is that students complete this survey,” said Geisler.
He urges students to look out for emails throughout early March that will promote incentives and the launch date for the survey.
The new “You at College” app focuses on personalized well-being and promotes resilience. It contains over 2,500 evidence-based resources and is interactive in that students are able to complete self-assessments of their wellness and engage in goal development.
More information about the app will be coming out later in the semester, according to Geisler.
Wielk also announced that the university will be relocating its counseling staff as of this summer.
“This is an essential service,” said Wielk. “We need more space to give them a true home and a true counseling center that would be more permanent.”
Sacred Heart also offers specialized counseling for student-athletes. Kathleen Early is the university’s Athletics Counselor and has the background of being a Division I athlete herself.
She is an active member of initiatives and groups, focusing on the specific needs within the student-athlete population.
“‘Heart to Heart’ is an amazing club for student-athletes to raise awareness and feel supported by their fellow peers,” said sophomore Kate Bell, who is a member of the club herself.
According to Wielk, there is less of a stigma around mental health issues in this day and age and it is important to maintain this by not remaining silent.
“I think the biggest thing is that we have to keep this conversation going really beyond this semester, into next year, and beyond,” said Wielk.