Mental health program would benefit stressed students

The Lamron reported that Lauderdale Health Center is greatly expanding its offerings of mental health services on Thursday Feb. 23. This is a necessary change, and one that needs to be accompanied by further action from the administration. 

I argue that Geneseo should offer Mental Health First Aid training to a broad array of students. Possibly even as a mandatory component of freshman orientation.

College students across the country are dealing more and more with anxiety and frustration, citing academic stress as the main contributor. These stresses are contributing to rising depression, substance abuse and suicide attempts. 

In the 2015 American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment, over a third of college students reported feeling “so depressed it was difficult to function,” and 9.6 percent had seriously considered suicide.

At Geneseo, we are not immune from these trends. Beyond my own feelings of being constantly overwhelmed, I have several friends who have gone to Lauderdale who experienced suicidal and borderline-suicidal thoughts. 

We have also seen several deaths and arrests related to substance abuse in the past few years, and, most tragically of all, we lost two current and one former student in January 2016 to what was clearly a mental health related incident.

These problems are at least in part the result of a society and job market that expects more from students than ever before. While such forces are beyond the control of anyone in Geneseo, the response our institution takes to them is not. 

Mental Health First Aid is an education program that gives people the tools to identify and to assist those suffering difficulties in their mental health. Among other things, it teaches people the signs of mental health issues, what resources are appropriate for various problems and how to approach someone who might be suffering. 

These topics already receive some treatment at freshman orientation, but it is far from sufficient to address the scope of the problem.

The faculty and staff at Geneseo are as caring as we could hope for, in my experience, but the unfortunate reality is that students are in the best position to identify and to assist mental health issues. Given a wide pool of students, these skills would be a very effective way to address this problem.

One approach would be to require members of organizations such as sports teams and Greek life to go through the training. While this might be somewhat easier to administer and the majority of students at Geneseo are involved in some kind of student group, this approach would miss an especially vulnerable demographic: those who are not involved in student life. 

In an ideal world, every student would receive this training. Geneseo’s mission is to provide an education, and Mental Health First Aid training could be viewed as part of a lifelong education. 

Geneseo teaches involvement in community, and getting this training would allow Geneseo students to make a valuable contribution to whatever community they choose to join, both now and for the rest of their lives.

Labelling these issues as “mental health” problems confers stigma on them, but in reality these are issues that everyone deals with in one form or another. Having feelings of anxiety or frustration from academic work is in no way abnormal. 

It is how we respond to these feelings that will determine both our success and our happiness. 

People say that our generation has no resilience, but resilience is a set of skills, not an innate quality. Let no one say that Geneseo left its students ill equipped.