Resources, Stigma, and the Culture Surrounding Mental Health at CC

Students gathered on Wednesday evening for a CCSGA-sponsored Dialogue Dinner focused on discussing mental health awareness and resources at Colorado College. Dr. Heather Horton, Director of the Wellness Resource Center, gave a presentation on the mental health services on campus, identification of risks, and prevention of mental health issues through developing life skills within a holistic model.

Photo from the Catalyst archives.

Based on a survey conducted by the Wellness Resource Center in the spring of 2016 that garnered approximately 300 responses, during the previous 12 months 57.7 percent of CC students felt overwhelming anxiety, 40.7 percent felt so depressed it was difficult to function, and 10.5 percent seriously considered suicide. These numbers reflect how necessary the services provided by the school are, including nine counseling center staff members, six free counseling sessions per academic year, and prevention as well as management training.

One of the major concerns Horton presented was the cultural focus at CC on always being busy. She shared stories of students emailing her and labeling themselves as “one of the busiest people on this campus” with a sense of pride. This focus on involvement and spreading oneself thin for the sake of staying busy creates a culture that contributes to the daily mental stresses for students.

On Wednesday, students discussed the presented information to further the campus-wide goals of improving resources for mental health and maintaining personal healthy states. The

rhetoric surrounding the presentation transferred into a discussion about “increasing help-seeking behavior” as Dr. Horton said during her talk. Ideas of stigma, social pressure, and misconceptions of the analog continuum of mental health as a binary were addressed by the students.

During the discussion, students identified the strengths and weaknesses of the on-campus mental health support system. With the founding of the Wellness Resource Center last academic year, students have seen an increase in conversation and awareness. A first-year shared how much they appreciate the pamphlets and informational fliers especially in the dorms as an easy way to normalize conversations on mental health. One student said that the counseling center “has been a real hit or miss” for many friends.

When delving into which conversations are missing regarding the mental health dialogue on campus, students cited discussing healthy approaches to intense friendships, especially for incoming students, learning to ask for what you need in a relationship, cultivating an individual relationship to substance use, and discussing tactics for dealing with the stresses specific to the Block Plan. One participant said that too often the conversation stops at “Yeah the Block Plan sucks for your mental health, have fun with that!” Potential solutions included involving the departments, especially in the natural sciences, to provide upperclassmen resources for students trying to understand social interactions on the Block Plan while in time- and energy-intensive blocks. Many students expressed desire to extend friendships beyond the span of one block, but feel unable to because of shifting commitments and busy schedules.

Some students claimed that increased diversity in the Wellness Resource Center would make them more comfortable approaching the department if they know individuals with backgrounds in the issues they are confronted with are accessible.

Some students on campus have been disappointed by the lack of support they have received for mental health. On-call counselors have families and children of their own, making availability during on-call hours severely limited. One student went off-campus with their mental health needs, which added stress to their weekly schedule as they had to figure out transportation and timing. Their recommendation to underclassmen was to find a reliable source off campus for long-term counseling. “If mental health could present a challenge to your academic and private interests while you’re a student here, then you need to set that up outside of the school,” they said. “Peers are great though; RAs are great,” they added. Students at CC have access to peers through the Wellness Resource Center Peer Health Educators program and RAs with reliable mental health training and resources.

The Wellness Resource Center hopes to continue critical conversations addressing how the CC community engages with mental health, what stigmas surround those discussions, and how to shift the culture on campus to emphasize a healthy relationship to people, involvement, and academics. For information or suggestions on training or resources, contact the Wellness Resource Center.

The CCSGA Dialogue Dinners happen blockly and focus on topics determined important to the community by CCSGA.

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