College resources for mental health are improving

At issue: Students are vulnerable to stressors and stigma.

Our take: Emerson is making moves in the right direction. 

Thanks to Elise Harrison, director of counseling and psychological services, Fresh Check Day was brought to Emerson to discuss mental health on campus. On Oct. 21 in the Max Mutchnick Campus Center, students jumped from station to station, meditating, playing mini golf, and learning about microaggressions. Students were also given free mental health screenings.

One in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. These staggering statistics are steeped in an environment brimming with stressors and impede students’ academic success. Our classmates suffer for a myriad of reasons that emerge during college—inadequate screenings because you’re away from your primary care provider, trouble finding treatment, and stigma. Fresh Check, which so far has reached 30 colleges in the U.S., is addressing these barriers by linking students directly to help at their institution and reframing mental illness as a legitimate part of health that requires care and attention. After attending the event, 91 percent of students say they are more familiar with mental health services, and 90 percent say they feel more comfortable helping a friend in need, according to surveys the organization collects. 

Emerson has been giving more of its attention and resources to mental health issues lately. The SGA recently approved a request from our chapter of Active Minds—an organization devoted to spreading awareness of mental health issues on college campuses—to travel to Irvine, Calif., for their national conference. The chapter’s president, Ashley Cunningham, is going to be presented their Student Leader of the Year award. This is a huge improvement over SGA’s previous interactions with Active Minds. Just two years ago, SGA denied recognition and $250 of funding to Active Minds, claiming that their services were already provided by the counseling office. SGA’s new disposition towards mental health issues is incredibly refreshing.

Of course, it wasn’t until recently that some of the most important changes made in regards to the college’s approach toward mental health actually occurred. Until this past year when Active Minds, select administrators, and ECAPS staff worked together, the Student Handbook Manual described signs of mental illness (ie. self-harm, depression, suicidal ideations) as “disruptive to and unacceptable in the academic and social/living environments of the College community.” The policy and its language now provides a much safer and more respectable culture for students dealing with mental illness: “When Emerson College learns that a student has recently exhibited behavior that raises concerns…the dean of students or a designee will promptly evaluate the situation on an individualized basis.” The change is heartening and should be commended, but it did take until 2015 for the change to be made. ECAPS took another positive step forward when it also implemented a 24-hour counseling hotline available for students. This opportunity to receive counseling and guidance at all hours of the day is invaluable for community members in need of mental health support. These are steps that allow students to work on campus without the weight of worrying about having adequate mental health resources. 

This event is a strong installment in the continuing focus on mental health awareness and advocacy on Emerson’s campus, but it’s imperative that the year’s real and impressive reforms continue. Fresh Check Day is just that—a single day of information that requires a continued commitment from everyone who lives and works at our school.