Mental health has affected many people of all ages, especially college students, and Drake University stepped into the spotlight with getting more access to mental health services.
In a study focused on undergraduate students in Northern New Jersey, by Journal of the American Medical Association, it was shown that out of 162 students there were “high levels” of those who struggled with high mental health distress and multiple academic and daily difficulties.
Some of the main struggles from these students are their own health and the health of their loved ones, irregular sleeping habits, decreased socialization, difficulty concentrating and concerns about their academic performance.
Rey Gutierrez, a freshman studying sociology and psychology at Drake University, talked about how their mental health has been these past few months while trying to balance school on top of everything else.
“When reflecting on how my mental health has been recently these past few months at university, I can say it has not been great,” Gutierrez said. “I have been struggling with personal issues in my life that have taken the role as most important. This has not only caused a giant amount of pressure, stress, and sadness onto me but also has made my education here at Drake my second most important thing.”
Drake University has taken steps to help those with mental health concerns by creating new events, encouraging professors to give students mental health days, and getting students connected with people that can help them. Still, students say there is room for improvement.
Meghan Newman, a junior majoring in multimedia journalism and writing, said she feels that the University is doing an okay job talking about mental health, but could do so much more for students.
“I definitely think the University could do more for mental health,” Newman said. “When I was struggling earlier this semester, I felt like my professors were very understanding and supportive, but I think the University as a whole could do more to foster a healthy environment. Everyone really encourages students to be Drake Busy, which can be okay, but sometimes leads to very unhealthy habits and mental states. If the administration could allow mental health days and offer a more laid back way for students to still engage with the campus community, I think it would be really helpful.”
Some professors have also noticed the changes in students’ mental health, with many of them taking steps to reduce stress for students.
Jill Van Wyke, a professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, had seen this shift in students and decided to give her students mental health days throughout the semester.
“When you’ve been teaching for a while, you can tell when students are so exhausted that they simply can’t learn,” said Van Wyke. “Over the years, as I’ve sensed that, I’ve offered a day off here or there to rest. Only in the last few years, certainly since the pandemic, have I become more intentional about calling them “mental health days” and explicitly addressing mental health in class.”
One of these events meant to help students happens every Wednesday from 12-12:30 in Oreon E. Scott Memorial Chapel, where the Office of Spiritual Life hosts a weekly meditation session. This event has allowed for students to take time for self-care on a regular basis, allowing themselves to relax, recalibrate and recenter.
Drake University has also offered students help with the University Counseling Center on campus. The counseling center has helped students get advice on relationships, stress and anxiety, loneliness, depression and self-esteem issues. Having seen an increase in patients this fall, however, the counseling center can only do so much.
“There has definitely been an influx, and there are positives in that due to many students wanting to improve their mental health,” said Kayla Bell, the director at the University Counseling Center. “I think it is evident that the pandemic has had a significant impact on everyone, especially students. Returning to college without a pandemic can already be challenging, but adjusting back in the midst of a pandemic while attempting to have a college experience can be difficult to navigate through. This can be even more difficult on top of pre-existing mental health and social/community concerns.”
Bell said the counseling center is dealing with this influx in patients by encouraging students to use walk-in times, coaching students on skills that will allow them to manage their concerns daily and assisting students with referrals in the community as needed.
“The University has done a good amount for me during this hardship,” Gutierrez said. “Most of my professors have been supportive of my choices during this time by allowing me extra time with assignments to allow me to focus on my mental health. However, I will say in every situation there is room to improve, and I think Drake can improve to do a better job to help students who may be struggling. However, it may just be that I do not have enough information on resources to reach out to,”