Mental health resources available for students

Sarah SheltonFeatures Editor

One thing many college students talk about is their decreasing mental health and being overwhelmed with work. 

According to the Director of Counseling Services Nick Pinkerton, “71 percent of Southern students reported increases in their level of stress and anxiety, and 46 percent reported increases in their levels of depression since May 2020.” 

The CDC states that 75 percent of Americans aged 18 to 24 report poor mental health related to the pandemic, and according to NMHI, suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students. 

One place to go for mental health assistance is the Active Minds club. 

“Active Minds advocates for mental health awareness and ending the stigma surrounding mental illness. We as an organization aim to expand the education of the Southern Connecticut State University student body and faculty by providing access and awareness to resources, coping techniques, and the recovery process on an abundance of prominent mental health-related topics,” social work major and Vice President of Active Minds Maria Bernabucci, a junior, said. 

Bernabucci said there is a wide variety of events held by the organization.  

“Tabling typically includes providing resources for students and holding open dialogue surrounding a specific topic,” Bernabucci said. “Every month we select a number of mental health issues that has dedicated national dates to spread awareness and ensure those who are struggling feel supported.” 

Bernabucci said the club can get students in contact with additional resources or they are here to just listen. 

“Students can contact Active Minds if they need help, although we are not professionals, we are a student-run organization that is always willing to assist others. E-Board and active members aspire to be friendly faces on campus that others can come to when they need someone to listen,” Bernabucci said.  

Another option is seeing the university’s service dog, Officer Jules. 

“He’s been through 10,000 hours of training since the time he was nine weeks old. He’s almost two and he just graduated,” University Police Seargent Cynthia Torres said. “So he had to go through public access testing so that he’s a service animal. He is ADA, Americans with Disabilities Act certified, and he can go into any building same as somebody that has a handicap placard. So there’s not any denying him access into those areas.” 

Torres said she is interested in doing group meetings with Jules for the students. 

“This first month was making sure that he felt that this was his home base, that he has a safe space that is very calming and safe for him as well and then he has a very stable home life. So he goes from home with me to here, which now he gets excited about coming,” Torres said. “In the first couple weeks, it was like ‘okay, we’re here again. What is this?’ So now, when he walks through the door, he’s like, Oh, cool. I know what this is.” 

Now that Jules has that home base, he is ready to help students. 

“So now, we’re gonna focus on going out to events that are already planned. So we can kind of just pop in, or just walk across campus and start meeting more students and faculty and staff members. I did put on his Instagram page [@k9jules_scsupd], if somebody wants to send an email if I have time, we can certainly set up times. We’re starting to do one-on-one. But I think if we can get groups together that would be interesting. That would make the most sense,” Torres said. “I’m hoping to at the Student Center to do something like library hours or office hours, if you will.” 

Jules, university police dog, sitting by a Southern Police car at Southern Connecticut State University on Feb.18| Sarah Shelton

As his handler, Torres said she notices his tail wags when meeting groups of students. 

“He really seems to like the groups of people. When it’s one on one, he’s kind of more mellow,” Torres said. “So when there’s a group of students that are excited to see him, he picks up on that. He’s really excited, you know? He likes to go over to the Student Center and kind of by the food court area where there’s a lot of activity. He also likes to smell the food.” 

Not only is Jules here to help the university’s students, but he is also here to help the university police. 

“I was having a not-so-good day yesterday, and I didn’t tell him that I wasn’t, and he came and just laid here [next to me] for a while,” Sergeant Kim Clare said. “He just knows.” 

Lastly, counseling services, located in Engleman hall, is the place to go and  where most of the university’s mental health initiatives start. 

Director of Counseling Serices Nick Pinkerton said one thing he wants students to know about is a mobile app which also provides an aspect of its own counseling. 

“[There is] an app called nod, which is for helping students overcome concerns around isolation and loneliness. The numbers of students who have been struggling with those issues actually have been rising before the pandemic, and then they’ve been exacerbated by the pandemic. So the cool thing about this app is that it sort of challenges students to step outside of their comfort zone and start finding strategies to actually make some friends and build some connections for a sense of community,” Pinkerton said.  

To connect more with students, counseling services also plans on taking their work to social media. 

“We’re going to be doing a social media marketing campaign,” Pinkerton said. “My hope is that in the next few weeks, there’s going to be a couple of videos that get pushed out of students actually talking about the importance of mental health. The slogans that we’re sort of playing around with are “your voice matters” and “we’re stronger together,” kind of playing on that theme of “Southern Strong,” but stronger together. We’re hoping that turns into a hashtag. I’m not so much into this social media thing but hey, I would love for that to work.” 

Another thing Pinkerton adds is the university’s involvement with The Jed Foundation. 

“Not many people know about JED campus, but it’s kind of cool,” Pinkerton said. “It includes students and faculty and staff and community providers and just kind of a swath of everybody to really bring mental health to the forefront of people’s attention.” 

The goal of the JED Campus initiative is to create a mental health coalition on each campus represented by students, staff, faculty, administrators, assess available mental health resources, and achieving 20 percent campus engagement in the Healthy Minds Survey. 

The big initiative happening right now, which is a part of JED Campus, is a student survey called “Healthy Minds Survey.” 

“The Healthy Mind survey is kind of a nationally recognized survey of student mental health, substance abuse and wellbeing-related stuff. The data that we get back from this will be looked at not just here at Southern, but actually at the system’s level, so all the other universities and the college system for the CSU system, and they’re going to be looking at it and trying to determine what this means in terms of our students’ needs and what resources should we be making sure we have available to meet these mental health and wellbeing needs,” Pinkerton said. “This is a great opportunity for students to raise their voices, take action and do something that’s really going to be beneficial. The challenge is our students all have very busy lives and to take 20 to 25 minutes out of their day to go fill out a survey is a big ask.” 

The survey is offering the first 500 students who complete the survey a “Your Voice Matters” T-Shirt and everyone who completes the survey will also be entered for a chance to win one of 10 one hundred dollar Amazon Gift Cards. Pinkerton said this is to incentivize students to take the survey so they can learn students’ needs. 

“The reality is that this survey is going to be sent to students in their email. You probably already received it, but it’s from the University of Michigan, and that’s because the University of Michigan is where the folks who do the Healthy Mind study actually reside. It’s a national survey, that’s where they come from,” Pinkerton said. “So this survey that gets sent to students emails. I’ve worked with it to make sure they don’t go into the spam folder, but you know how your email kind of breaks things down into direct messages and then the other? It’ll go into that other column and I know for a lot of people, myself included, that other column is almost always just junk mail. So my worry is that there’s going to be a lot of students that just kind of bypass this.” 

Door to Counseling Services at the university | Sarah Shelton

Counseling services even got the university president involved to help spread the word. 

On Tuesday Feb.15, President Joe Bertolino sent out an email stating, “As part of Southern’s commitment to mental health and well-being, beginning today, each of you will receive an email from a research team led by the University of Michigan asking that you complete the Healthy Minds Survey. This survey represents an important opportunity for you to share your experiences and observations at Southern to help us improve our services, outreach, and holistic support. Check your Southern email for your unique link.”  

Bertolino added, “your voice matters, so I encourage you to take action and be heard. We’re only #SouthernStrong, together.” 

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