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New mental health program to support students at Saint Mary’s

| Thursday, August 29, 2019

Saint Mary’s announced on Aug. 12 a new health and wellness program “YOU at College,” which is designed to help students anonymously find resources and support for academic, mental and physical health related problems.

The program was created by the company Grit Digital Health. Karen Johnson, vice president of student affairs, said in an email she first learned of it when she attended the NASPA Strategies Conference in January. 

“This site was described to us as a way to get students information in a format that they use, it’s non-obtrusive, it’s easy to use and it’s fun,” Johnson said. “After bringing a group on campus together to see a demo of the program, we all agreed that this might just be the way to reach students in their comfort zone.”

When logging on to the program, users are encouraged to create a personalized profile. They are then prompted to complete assessments that help the program better understand the health and wellness of the user. Users are asked to rate their sleeping schedule, academic satisfaction, mental health and physical well-being, among other questions that, according to the email Johnson sent to the student body on Aug. 12, “foster student success in three domains: Succeed (academics and career); Thrive (physical and mental health); and Matter (purpose, community, and social connections).”

After completing the assessments, students receive access to resources and articles that are related to the answers they provided via the assessments.

While the assessments tend to focus on the general well-being of the user, some questions specifically address suicide and suicidal thoughts. While the program offers Saint Mary’s specific resources for those dealing with suicidal thoughts, Johnson said all answers to the assessment are private and can only be accessed by the student user. 

“I have no access to individual student data,” she said. “If a student is in crisis, there is a button at the top of the page to click on and get some immediate resources. Also, as a student moves through articles and searches for information, services and support information will be pushed out to that student.”

Anonymity was an important factor when creating the YOU program, Nathaan Demers, a clinical psychologist and vice president and director of clinical programs at YOU at College, said. The program only collects aggregate data — or generalized data summaries — that the College can use to improve the quality of their on-campus academic, mental or physical health resources. 

The goal of the program, Demers said, is to move students to action — whether that be encouraging students to seek counseling or providing them with over 1,000 resources to contribute to their knowledge of self. He said anonymity helps students feel comfortable and supported while they engage with the program’s articles and resources. 

YOU at College is not a replacement for counseling, Demers said, but it can give students the information to “know where to start” and can “recommend to them where to go.” 

“Students don’t conceptualize mental health problems as mental health problems,” Demers said. “They see them as [a part of] life.” 

This poses a problem, Demers said, since one in four college students have a mental illness. Some studies show that 50% of students report feeling stressed out to the point of not being able to function.

Demers said the program can help students learn about good mental and physical health, especially if students do not feel automatically comfortable visiting a counselor.

YOU at College gives students the tools to better understand themselves and their mental and physical health before those problems manifest into something worse, Demers said. 

“We don’t want to wait until something’s wrong to treat it,” Demers said. “Let’s not wait until someone has depression to treat that depression.” 

While the focus of YOU at College tends to be on mental and physical health, there are also several academic assessments available to help students understand their academic limits and aspirations. YOU at College can help students discover other relevant on-campus resources, like multicultural centers and academic study groups that can help a student become well-rounded and healthy, Demers said.

While the company has yet to specifically study the effects of the program on an all-female student body like Saint Mary’s, Demers said the company is looking to conduct a longitudinal study on gender identity in the near future.

“[Generally speaking], individuals who self-identify as female utilize the platform at higher rates, as well as for longer durations of time,” he said.

With this program, Johnson said the College hopes to help students “become self-reliant and able to manage issues.” 

“Our goal is to have information available to our students whenever they want to access it,” she said.

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About Gina Twardosz

Gina Twardosz is a senior English Writing and Communication Studies double major at Saint Mary's College. She's the co-editor of the Investigative Unit, a Saint Mary's social media liaison, and she occasionally writes for SMC News and Scene. Gina is a tried and true Midwesterner and yes, she does say "ope" often.

Contact Gina