Throughout the fall semester, faculty, staff, and students across campus have collaborated to facilitate mental health programming that helps students build a support network at St. Lawrence during this time of uncertainty.
It’s a bright fall afternoon in late October, and St. Lawrence University faculty, staff, and students are gathered on the quad for one of the most beloved events on campus—Doggy De-stress Day.
“We’re doing one every other week now,” says Director of Counseling Services Tara Tent.
In previous years, this event only took place during Finals Week at the end of each semester. Now, it’s incorporated into ongoing programming that promotes and supports students’ mental health throughout a semester that’s unlike any other before it.
“I think in general, under the best of times, mental health is a concern for college students just given the pressures they’re under,” says Tent. “The added layer of COVID-19 is definitely raising the intensity of mental health issues. This age group doesn’t necessarily know their resiliency and coping skills yet. That’s what they start to figure out in college. Not having all those things in place just makes them more vulnerable to what’s being called pandemic fatigue.”
To facilitate mental health programming that helps students build a support network on campus, Tent has worked closely with Vice President and Dean of Student Life Hagi Bradley and a team of students from Associate Professor and Chair of Psychology Cathy Crosby’s Community Psychology and Wellness Community-Based Learning (CBL) course. Bradley’s office has also prioritized investment in a robust offering of resources, such as a 24/7 counseling line, extended evening hours for counseling services, affinity groups for LGBTQ and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) students, and outreach that begins as soon as students arrive for their first year on campus.
"We want people to know how important it is to reach out. There are always people here to listen to you and try to help you." —Linh Do '21
“We have to do what we can to support our students. The more we put in place for [them], the more they have in their toolbox,” says Bradley. “So when they hit a problem, it's not like hitting a wall. It's more like hitting a speed bump and saying, ‘yes, I have the resources to deal with these things and keep moving forward.’ ”
Both Tent and Bradley believe the partnership between their team and Crosby’s CBL students is key to the University’s ability to sponsor a regular schedule of events that help students de-stress and check in with their mental health. The three students working with Tent and Bradley are Lauren Perkins ‘21, Linh Do ‘21, and Aimee Hebert ‘21.
“They're a huge help. We wanted to do more wellness programming and wellness events, and they've been able to help implement that. It definitely takes a lot of work,” says Tent.
When they enrolled in the course in the spring, Lauren, Linh, and Aimee expected to gain experience serving and learning in the greater Canton community. When COVID-19 eliminated this opinion, Crosby came up with a creative alternative.
“One solution was having my students give their time to our own Laurentian community,” says Crosby.
Over the past several months, the three seniors have worked with Tent and Bradley to organize bi-weekly “Mental Wellth” days for their peers on campus. They feature activities like yoga, meditation, and aromatherapy, and encourage students to make self-care a habit. In the past, the team might have chosen to sponsor a single “Mental Wellth” week with seven consecutive days of programming. They believe their new approach achieves a deeper meaning.
“We decided to shift to days so we could promote the idea that mental health always matters—not just during one week,” says Aimee.
"We care about each and every one of our students... Don't be afraid and don’t be ashamed because we all need help at times. Reaching out is a huge sign of strength, not weakness." —Vice President and Dean of Student Life Hagi Bradley
Aimee, Linh, and Lauren are also the brains behind the @mentalhealthmatters.slu Instagram account, which shares helpful tips and reminders (like how to practice deep breathing or warning signs of mental illness) and motivating messages for anyone who may need an extra boost while scrolling through their feed.
“We're focusing on promoting wellbeing. [...] We don't want someone to look at our posts and self-diagnose,” says Lauren. “We're trying to focus on positivity and putting out little messages and pick-me-ups throughout the day.”
In addition to these initiatives, the trio is also helping Tent lay the groundwork for a peer support program—a major goal for the Student Life team.
“It would basically be similar to the Advocates program,” says Tent. “[Each individual] would go through some training and then students could reach out to them... if they just want peer support and advice, or just a peer to listen or even help with things like adjusting to college.”
“Students don’t always want to go to see a counselor when they want to talk about things,” Aimee adds.
The combined efforts from Healthy and Counseling Services and the Community Health and Psychology CBL students contribute to one overarching, campus-wide objective: de-stigmatizing mental health at St. Lawrence.
“We want [any student experiencing stress or depression] to reach out to counseling because it's very likely the student just stays in their dorm room… and no one knows about them. We want people to know how important it is to reach out. There are always people here to listen to you and try to help you,” says Linh.
According to Bradley, this has been the guiding principle behind so many of his team’s initiatives since assuming his role as vice president and dean of Student Life last year. It’s especially important now due to the added stress of COVID-19, but it won’t go away when the pandemic eventually does.
“People aren't afraid to ask for help in other aspects of life, but when it comes to mental health, our society enforces so much shame,” says Bradly. “It's okay to ask for help... Reach out to those of us that are here to help and know that we care. We care about each and every one of our students... Don't be afraid and don’t be ashamed because we all need help at times. Reaching out is a huge sign of strength, not weakness.”