This summer, numerous Bellarmine staff and faculty members from across the university completed Mental Health First Aid, an internationally recognized mental health training program.
The program teaches participants to notice and respond to mental health and substance challenges commonly experienced by young adults in higher education settings.
The training is part of Bellarmine’s larger effort to respond to rising rates of mental health needs among college students.
“We want students to succeed, and we know success can be derailed by these types of challenges,” said Melanie Henry, Student Life Coordinator, who helped organize the training.
Bellarmine began working last fall with The Jed Foundation, the nation’s leading nonprofit working to prevent suicide and promote the mental wellbeing of young adults. Among other actions, the foundation recommended campus-wide mental health training. The university received funding from the Kentucky Student Success Collaborative to train as many as 100 staff and faculty members.
Henry likened Mental Health First Aid to CPR training in that it guides participates in offering immediate intervention.
“You can address their basic need right away,” Henry said. “If you were to encounter someone who is having a mental health challenge or crisis, you can step in, assess without judgement, offer resources, and get them to professional services where they can get the true help that they need. We are not diagnosticians, we aren’t treating these folks, we are addressing the onset of the challenge or crisis to get them to a place where they can seek help.”
Dr. Gary Petiprin, director of Bellarmine’s Counseling Center, said a university-wide effort is needed now more than ever. The university administered a Healthy Minds Survey among students this year. More than 900 responded. The results revealed that students are increasingly affected by mental health issues.
Over half of the respondents said they agree or strongly agree with the statement “I currently need help for a mental health or emotional issue.” Another 80 percent said their academic performance was negatively impacted by an emotional or mental health issue sometime in the last month.
“Just those couple data points alone speak to how broadly mental health has been impacting students in their life and academic world. We’ve known that anecdotally, but now, with the data, we know it concretely,” Petiprin said. “What that says is we all need to be a part of supporting student mental health. Not everyone who encounters a mental health challenge needs to be in therapy. What we want to do is empower our faculty and staff to feel confident in having supportive conversations and identifying students who might be struggling early so we can intervene early, so the wheels don’t come off down the road. The quicker we can identify students who might be having difficulty and have supportive conversations the quicker the students can get back to their focus as students.”
Since the pandemic, requests have risen 25 percent for the Bellarmine Counseling Center’s services, mirroring the rise in mental health needs across the country.
In October, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry joined with several other groups in declaring a national state of emergency for young people’s mental health, saying the pandemic had worsened a growing crisis. The last decade saw increasing rates of depression, anxiety, trauma and loneliness among America’s youth and young adults. Suicide has become the second leading cause of death for people aged 10-24.
“We’re definitely not alone in seeing the spike in students reporting mental health concerns and seeking out services” Petiprin said. “These challenges were trending upward prior to COVID-19 and the pandemic intensified that with disrupted routines, people feeling isolated and general anxiety. There will be a continued ripple effect from that. The lingering impact of the pandemic is still here.”
Petiprin is working with others throughout campus to finalize a mental health strategic plan that will be unveiled this fall. The plan will incorporate about 30 major action items to be completed over the next three years, some of which are already underway:
- The university is finalizing contract with ProtoCall, an agency that provides crises intervention services integrated with campus services.
- Bellarmine will now offer each student a pre-matriculation health history form which asks students if they are living with a mental or physical health condition and if they would like the university to follow up with services to support them.
- The university recently offered a medication collection day in which students could properly dispose of medications no longer needed so they aren’t available for potential misuse.
“We’ll monitor progress toward our strategic planning goals and we will re-administer the Healthy Minds survey again in three years to assess overall progress,” Petiprin said. “Our goal is to consistently meet the needs of our students now and in the future.”
Click here to learn more about Bellarmine’s Counseling Center or reach staff members by calling 502-272-8480 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.