College is supposed to be the best four years of your life. Yet during my freshman year I had to attend the funeral of one of my best friends. Understandably, this put a dark cloud over my freshman year of college.
People you meet in college can become family so quickly, becoming your home away from home. They are there for better or for worse. From hours spent studying together to late night adventures, my friend was there through it all. He was there for the ups and downs; yet I was unable to be there for him in his moment of greatest need. He died by suicide over the summer as we were entering our sophomore year of college. Like too many college students across the country, my group of friends lost one of their shining stars that summer.
There is a mental health crisis on college campuses in Connecticut. In Connecticut during the fall of 2020, 39% of college students reported symptoms of depression and anxiety. Moreover, 83% of students believe their mental health had a negative impact on their academic performance. As in my friend’s sad case, an untreated mental health crisis can lead to suicidal ideation. Research has shown that approx 12% of university students experienced suicidal ideation in 2019 and more tha5% made a suicidal plan.
With campus counseling centers overwhelmed, many students are not getting the support they need. Nationally, full-time college counselors are estimated to be responsible for an average of 120 students each. Many universities promote same-day intake meetings to help provide students with quick resources. This is beneficial to the student so they avoid waiting long periods of time to get help. However, many counselors are unable to spend enough time with students due to such a high workload.
There have been attempts to reform this issue. In 2021, Governor Ned Lamont gave $2.7 million to colleges and universities in Connecticut to address the mental health challenges students were facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Colleges and universities have been able to use these resources to increase access to care while educating students and faculty about the availability of these resources. While this has helped momentarily expand access, there is still a need to better promote mental health on college campuses.
It is the job of the entire community to bring well-being to the university campus. Two ways to help promote positive mental health on college campuses include mental health wellness days and support groups. Some colleges and universities allow students to have two absences per class without penalty. These types of absences are often used when a person might be sick or have appointments. However, not all colleges allow this policy, and in many courses, a missed class will reduce your overall grade. By providing students with justified mental health absences, they are able to take time to regroup and get the support they need. During these justified mental health absences, students will need to schedule a meeting with a specific counselor. Based on this meeting, the counselor will determine if the student qualifies for a mental health wellness day or should be counted for regular absence. Students will have follow-up meetings to make sure their mental health is at its best. These mental health days can help prevent burnout and reduce the likelihood of a mental health crisis. In Connecticut, there is a policy for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade two days of mental health every year. Why aren’t college students protected by this public policy?
Another way to promote wellness on college campuses is through offerings peer support groups. These groups can discuss topics like stress, time management, and self-care. With the promotion, many college students will hear about these group meetings. Hopefully enough people feel comfortable attending that many people can benefit from these sessions. If students feel they have positive suggestions, they may not need to seek individual counseling. This will also reduce the workload for consultants.
The desire to improve mental health treatment is not a request, it is a request. Reforms should be done internally public order to ensure students receive accommodation for their mental health such as justified mental health days. Since students are protected under the federal Physical Disability Act, it is wrong not to protect those with mental illness as it is discrimination. Alongside these reforms, faculty and staff they need to be trained in mental illness and how it can impact their students. With an increased feeling of being overwhelmed, students don’t have a strong enough support system. My friend’s death should be a lesson to everyone. University students are the future and deserve better support.
I want to leave you with this question: How many more students have to suffer before they get the proper help they need?
Morgan Rogers is a senior at Sacred Heart University, majoring in health sciences with a concentration in public health with minors in honors, human nutrition and psychology.