After the loss of multiple members of the Boston College community in the past year, student organizations are working to improve counseling services and student awareness of mental health resources on campus.
Like many universities across the United States, BC has seen an increase of mental health issues including stress, depression, and anxiety. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates among 15-to-24-year-old individuals has increased 51 percent over the past ten years. This increase leaves college administrations and health services with the challenge of promoting mental health.
At BC, student groups have been stepping up to make sure the student population is aware of the mental health resources on campus.
Crystal Pu, the President Pro Tempore of the Student Assembly of the Undergraduate Government of Boston College (UGBC) and Lynch '20, has spent the past few weeks studying the mental health epidemic on campus and the under-utilization of university services. Pu ran on a platform of raising more awareness of women’s mental health and has since shifted it to focus on mental health for all.
Pu and the Student Assembly (SA) have been discussing four major points. First, they want to encourage students to go to University Counseling Services (UCS) and break down the stigma of asking for help.
The SA also wants to educate faculty because students often go to a trusted teacher first before UCS. Pu discussed planning a panel on how faculty can best help these students and direct them to counseling services.
Similarly, those struggling with mental health issues may go to friends first. Pu said an online program similar to the Bystander Intervention Program has been discussed. There was some opposition in the SA because they don’t want students to start “analyzing” their peers, but they do want peers to know what to do when friends turn to them.
Lastly, Pu stressed that BC does not have any resources to teach students the dangers of opioids and antidepressants substance abuse education. She argues that counseling services and health promotion should have more programming.
“It always takes a crisis for people to be aware of these problems," said Pu. "We need to be more preventive and proactive, rather than reactive."
Pu also stressed that even when public attention shifts away and there is a new UGBC team, she wants to “preserve the efforts and outcomes for future administrations.”
Similarly to Pu and UGBC, Sofia Lopez, the co-president of Active Minds and MCAS ‘20, is trying to bridge the gap between available resources, and the students.
Active Minds is a national organization that works towards mental health awareness and education for students.
“There are stigmas associated [with conversations about mental health], and people just don’t come,” said Lopez. “It’s a big step. It’s really scary.”
Lopez and Active Minds recently met with UCS to discuss on-campus resources.
“Even [for] me, the president of Active Minds, there were all these things I didn’t know about,” said Lopez.
For example, UCS now provides brand new same-day consults, just one of the many services, where students can start to figure out which direction he or she wants to go in regarding therapy. According to Lopez, there are so many great services that the student body doesn’t know about, which means there needs to be a more efficient way of spreading the word.
Lopez plans for Active Minds to continue to partner with other campus groups, UGBC, and to further their relationship with UCS.
“Connection is the greatest way to get the word out,” Lopez said. “We need to start the conversation.”
Other groups on campus are pursuing similar missions. Lean On Me is another student organization working to address mental health with program that aims to create immediate and anonymous peer support networks through a texting hotline. Students will be matched with a fellow BC student who is not formally licensed or certified, but who has passed the Lean On Me Supporter Training. The expected wait time is under five minutes, and the conversations can last however long the initiator would like. The Lean On Me number is 617-553-6655.
The Gavel wants to remind students they are not alone and that there are resources to reach out if they are in need of help. University Counseling Services is located in Gasson 001 and may be contacted by phone at 617-552-3310. After office hours, students are still able to call UCS and request to be connected with an off-campus Psychological Emergency Clinician (PEC), who will return the call as soon as possible.