Mental health and wellness a priority at WMU

Contact: Erin Flynn

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KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Stress. Anxiety. Depression. A growing number of college students nationwide are seeking mental health treatment on campus. Recognizing the need, campus leaders at Western Michigan University are developing new ways to help.

"Mental health is a part of wellness that we often neglect or don't think about as much as we do physical health," says Breanna Traynor, coordinator of mental health outreach at WMU.

But if you're not taking care of yourself, she says, "you can't be a student, you can't be a friend, you can't be a family member, you can't do all the things you want to do in life."

All WMU students have access to Counseling Services at Sindecuse Health Center. Individual, group and couples counseling are offered free of charge.

Focused on Wellness

WMU is committed to wellness and making sure Broncos never go it alone. In 2018, the University became a JED Campus—one of more than 270 across the country focused on making student well-being and mental health a priority. The program involves assessing mental and emotional health needs of students, identifying systems already in place and what could be done to enhance care, and devising ways to implement those plans. As part of the process, WMU also conducted a Healthy Minds Study to evaluate students' attitudes, behaviors and awareness of mental health issues.  

"We're going to be developing new programming that will be rolled out this fall," says Brian Fuller, counseling services director, adding that the programming will not be fully implemented until next year. "The goal is finding more creative ways to meet the students' needs because the demand is so high."

The University is also in the process of incorporating the Equity in Mental Health Framework, which was created to help universities support and enhance the mental health of students of color. According to research collected by the organization, students of color at American colleges and universities are almost twice as likely to not seek care when they feel depressed or anxious compared to their white peers.

Increasing Education

People sit in desks in a classroom watching a presentation on Mental Health First Aid.

A Mental Health First Aid training session is held at Sindecuse Health Center.

With the creation of Traynor's position in 2018, a new emphasis will be placed on education outreach regarding mental health. She's been working on developing Western CARES—a resource to help identify students in distress and respond in a meaningful and effective way.

WMU also offers mental health first-aid training. The 8-hour training gives participants skills to reach out and provide initial support to an individual who may be developing a mental health or substance use problem and help connect them to appropriate care.

SUICIDE PREVENTION

Reducing the stigma surrounding mental health difficulties is a key goal of WMU's Suicide Prevention Program. It also serves to educate the campus community about suicide and mental health issues as well as present opportunities for individuals to learn how to help themselves and others.

"Gaining a better understanding of suicidal thoughts and behaviors among adults may help to identify individuals at risk for suicide, to inform the development of screening tools and to inform mental health and general practitioners on treatment planning," says program director Dr. Kathryn Lewis-Ginebaugh.

WMU offers both in-person and online educational workshops and seminars. Students, faculty and staff can access online courses through the Elearning portal.

FINDING HELP

Counseling Services is located inside Sindecuse Health Center. It offers students a one-stop location for medical, mental and emotional health needs. Faculty and staff have access to counseling through the HelpNet Employee Assistance Program.

Emphasizing the importance of well-being, WMU will continue developing programs to meet wellness needs and further educational opportunities on campus.

"It's important to recognize (college) is an adjustment. There are going to be some changes," Fuller says. "I want students to know that we are here and they can go to many different areas on campus for support."

"People are here for you," says Traynor. "There are people on campus who care."

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.

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