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Students and Staff Continue to Advocate for Mental Health at Haverford

With spring break over, Haverford students are starting classes again after surviving another grueling bout of midterms. The ritual of late nights, hours spent studying, and copious caffeine during midterms week may be predictable, but that doesn’t mean it is any less exhausting. It is increasingly apparent, however, that college students nationwide are facing significant mental health struggles beyond their academic stress. A recent article in the New York Times described the increasing demand for mental health services at colleges, and the various ways that these institutions are attempting to meet the needs of their students. According to the New York Times, there was a 30% increase in the number of students who used campus counseling services from 2009 to 2015. The struggle to provide sufficient counseling has led some colleges hire more therapists, or even modify their counseling sessions to meet student needs. In the midst of this larger trend, Haverford continues to move forward with new initiatives and programs aimed to provide support for its students.

As a leader of Active Minds at Haverford College, I’m involved in addressing mental health on campus. It’s clear that both students and staff are passionate about projects related to mental health. The driving force behind many of these efforts is Kelly Wilcox, Haverford’s Dean for Student Health and Learning Resources. Wilcox is responsible for coordinating Haverford’s far-reaching Healthy Mind/Healthy Body (HM/HB) initiative, which was launched in Fall 2017 and recruited students for subgroups for mental health, physical health, and general student health. Since the committee was formed, Wilcox has been holding meetings, collecting student feedback, and running programs related to important health topics. Some of the campus events associated with Healthy Mind/Healthy Body initiative include the Haverstrong competition, a wellness calendar, and “fitness friday” posts on Instagram.

As of now, Wilcox plans to consolidate some of the disparate groups and resources under the larger umbrella of “Haverhealth,” which will address both physical and mental health. When I discussed the recent developments with her, she explained her vision of a more efficient system in which different subgroups worked on particular issues and there was much more collaboration. “I’m not trying to create silos in any way,” she told me. “I want to create some efficiencies in terms of certain topics. And the the overall group will meet a few times a semester, but the working groups just may really take a certain topic or project and, and run with it at any given time.”

Wilcox spent a year collecting feedback and insight from HM/HB committee members, faculty, and staff, and now hopes to strengthen partnerships with other health services on campus. Wilcox told me that “staff members and health services are really excited about partnering with students and outreach,” and she cited the Women*s Center, the Student Health Advisory Committee, and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) as important collaborators. There are also many opportunities to work on physical health at Haverford, and the HM/HB committee already includes a subgroup for this topic. Wilcox expressed a strong desire to find a combine action and feedback in the institution of new resources on campus, so student engagement is vital to Haverhealth. “I’m trying to find the balance of collaboration and efficiency,” she told me. Even though she has worked hard on the establishment of the Haverhealth model, Wilcox knows that it will never be perfect.

One of Wilcox’s primary focuses has been mental health, and this area seems particularly important to Haverford students at the moment. Ongoing projects in this area include the establishment of a designated “wellness space” in the Campus Center, providing peer-support training to students and faculty, and a workshop after spring break that address compassion fatigue and self-care. A notable new resource that is freely available for students is the “You@Haverford” website, which contains writing and resources on an array of important topics. The site provides outside content as well as articles written specifically for Haverford students, which often indicate useful resources on campus. The site addresses mental and physical health, social relationships, academics, and more. You@Haverford also includes an option to set goals and quizzes about a student’s development in various areas of college life. Wilcox is particularly excited about the possibilities for You@Haverford, and she hopes that the site will eventually feature articles written by students as well as information about student groups and events.

Wilcox’s efforts have involved many Haverford students who are passionate about health-related issues on campus. Rachel Spitzer ‘20, has been a member of the HM/HB mental health subcommittee for several semesters and is a current co-president of Active Minds at Haverford College. When I asked Spitzer about her experiences working on the HM/HB committee, she told me that “it’s basically a way of kind of getting people… who are all interested in similar topics to work on different projects, and those projects really change.”

Spitzer is most familiar with mental health on campus, and she noted a general consensus within the subgroup on the need for a “culture shift” at Haverford. According to Spitzer, many individual issues that manifest on campus are the result of an “unhealthy culture surrounding mental health” in which students struggle with self-care and setting boundaries. Social stressors can combine with academics and extracurricular commitments to make life at Haverford difficult. The group has also been considering how conversations about mental health are being held on campus, and if there are ways to improve this discussion.

Spitzer is also somewhat familiar with the You@Haverford website, and she emphasized its potential to present “different Haverford thoughts and materials that are generated by the student body or generated by the deans.” She noted the difficulty in introducing any new type of media, however, and hopes that the website can function as a way to direct students to human resources.

Another exciting initiative organized is HaverCare training, which is organized by Wilcox and led by CAPS counselors. HaverCare teaches participants strategies to use when supporting a peer in emotional distress. Attendees learn to spot the signs of emotional distress, strategies for conducting a supportive conversation with a peer, and how to refer the individual to relevant on-campus resources. HaverCare training workshops will be available to faculty as well as students, and the pilot training was held a few weeks ago. A number of students attended and provided feedback that will be integrated into future versions of the training. HaverCare training will ideally assist students in maintaining healthy boundaries while allowing them to support their friends. At a school like Haverford, finding this balance is incredibly important. As Spitzer declared, “[Haverford] students struggle to take care of themselves, but they’re really good at watching out for each other.”

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