By Cecilia Cress
Elm Staff Writer
After over a year of work, the Mental Health Working Group at Washington College has completed a report outlining the mental health needs of WC students.
The MHWG was created in October 2019 by Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Sarah Feyerherm and Director of Counseling Dr. Miranda Altman. The group meets weekly to assess the state of mental health in the WC community.
Other members of the group include Director of Academic Skills Hilary Bateman, Assistant Professor of Sociology Nick Garcia, Assistant Director of Public Safety Sue Golinski, Head Men’s Basketball Coach Aaron Goodman, Interim Dean of Students Gregory Krikorian, and seniors Sarah Kelly and Kayla Mehrtens.
The goal of the MHWG is to “create a campus environment that fully supports the mental health and wellness of all students by integrating a public health approach that promotes well-being” through changes to counseling services and initiatives provided by WC and the Counseling Center, according to the report.
Dr. Feyerherm said the report is “a roadmap to follow” as the group works towards implementing new mental health initiatives at WC for the 2021-2022 academic year.
“Colleges and universities all across the country have been rethinking how they create environments that will be supportive for student mental health,” Dr. Feyerherm said.
The report discusses data surrounding mental health on college campuses, such as percentages of students who utilize counseling services at WC.
The report also outlines a list of nine recommendations to the WC community, changes to the current Counseling Center’s services, as well as new initiatives and resources to help WC students.
The recommendations include utilizing social media and virtual spaces to bring awareness to the Counseling Center’s resources and mental wellness campaigns in the future, forging connections with professionals outside of WC to offer additional help and teletherapy, planning more wellness programming on campus through events like yoga and meditation, reaching out to services related to substance abuse and recovery and integrating those programs onto campus, developing a peer coaching and support resource, and establishing a wellness facility on campus for student use.
“Student mental health on campus way back used to be essentially, ‘If you have a problem, you go to some place to resolve it.’ We look at mental health much differently today…We look at it as being mental wellness that is integral to their whole life. I think the plan is reflective of that,” Dr. Feyerherm said.
While members of the MHWG cannot know how these initiatives will affect the College, they believe they are on the right track.
“It’s unclear as of right now how much each of these initiatives will be effective because one of the challenges with mental health is that people have to take the first step individually, they have to choose to get involved,” Mehrtens said.
Dr. Feyerherm said another goal of the report is to continue combatting the stigma surrounding mental health.
“Part of erasing the stigma is acknowledging that mental illness is real, that it’s just like any other illness that we may have. It’s also about recognizing that mental wellness isn’t about fixing deficits, it’s about lifting everybody up and helping everybody figure out ways they can thrive,” Dr. Feyerherm said.
Among the proposed initiatives, peer counseling and teletherapy are expected to be implemented in the future.
“Even though I feel like our generation is a lot more open about mental health, it is still widely stigmatized. A lot of people don’t attend therapy, they instead talk to their friends and unhealthily treat their friends as therapists. They may not intentionally mean to be unhealthy, of course, but if students can get training to be able to help each other…I think that will be the biggest benefit to WC,” Mehrtens said.
The report generated by the MHWG and the proposed changes are just the beginning in the ongoing discussion about how to best support the mental health of WC students, according to Dr. Feyerherm.
“Mental health is not just about resolving mental illness. It’s about creating this holistic environment where students can thrive and be healthy,” Dr. Feyerherm said.
Featured Photo caption: Washington College produced a report examining the mental health services of the College and needs of the students after over a year of work. Elm File Photo.