Observer Editorial: Mental health is a timeless issue
Observer Editorial Board | Friday, October 1, 2021
Friday marks the end of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. As September ends, The Observer encourages the tri-campus community and our readers to continue to advocate for mental health and support one another, especially as the pandemic approaches its 19th month.
As mental health resources became inaccessible to many people as a result of social distancing guidelines and growing economic inequality in the first year of the pandemic, conversations about mental health and accessibility of treatment were brought to the forefront of public discussion. Safeguards for mental health were adopted in our community such as pass/fail options, online classes and hybrid teaching. Taking care of yourself was a concept that was greatly valued and advocated for in news articles, over Zoom and even on social media.
However, at this stage of the pandemic, some of these concepts have again been put on the back burner in the name of normalcy — despite the fact that the world has suffered innumerable losses throughout these past 19 months, and continues to suffer. Even as we make strides toward a semblance of normalcy, we must continue to prioritize conversations about mental health.
Similarly, suicide prevention and awareness is a conversation for the whole year beyond the 30 days of September. Educate yourself on the warning signs of mental illness and psychological distress. Check in on your friends, even the ones who appear to have it together. Learn how to have open conversations about mental health, even if they’re occasionally uncomfortable, and even if these discussions aren’t common within your social circles.
Promoting mental health in our tri-campus community and beyond requires more than just awareness and accommodations — we must especially emphasize the importance of our schools’ professional mental health services, ensuring these resources remain accessible to students in need.
Notre Dame now offers a new, free health care program, Fighting Irish Care, that allows students immediate telehealth services, including free counseling through Timely Care. This alternative offers a variety of services including 24/7 drop in mental health visits, scheduled counseling and health coaching. Their FAQ page on their website offers information about getting started.
The University Counseling Center (UCC) provides free mental health services for all undergraduate and graduate students at Notre Dame, offering weekday drop-in hours in which students can meet with a counselor for a consultation, as well as a 24/7 crisis intervention hotline available at 574-631-7336.
Campus Ministry also offers a “Need to Talk” program, allowing students to speak about their struggles with a campus minister during drop-in hours or through scheduled appointments.
At Saint Mary’s, students can call 574-284-4805 to schedule free counseling appointments with the Health and Counseling Center. Students also have free access to the 24/7 telehealth service Timely Care.
Although many students take advantage of the free resources offered by their respective schools, a large share of students aren’t aware of just how accessible and affordable these options are. If you know someone in the tri-campus community who might need support, remind them of these services. Offer a kind and compassionate voice. Remind them there is no shame in seeking help. Emphasize that many students utilize these — about 30% of each graduating class at Notre Dame visits the UCC during their time as a student, and in 2017 Saint Mary’s reported over 20% of students had seen a counselor on campus.
Although such statistics are encouraging, these large numbers of students seeking help reveal the holes in our tri-campus mental healthcare systems. With demand rising dramatically at the UCC in recent years, students have reported wait times of weeks for appointments, and others have expressed disappointment in their treatments’ effectiveness. Neither of these issues are the fault of individual staff members at the UCC — rather, they’re an unfortunate consequence of the University failing to provide adequate funds and staffing for one of its most vital programs.
If these roadblocks are preventing you from receiving the treatment and attention you need, the UCC’s website also outlines resources for finding mental health services off-campus, including ThrivingCampus, a platform that provides college students with off-campus mental healthcare referrals.
For many, beginning the search for support is the most difficult part. Some might convince themselves that seeking treatment is “weak” or “embarrassing”; some might assure themselves their struggles “aren’t significant enough” to warrant therapy.
But asking for help is a sign of our humanity, and every mental health issue is worthy of attention. Therapy isn’t just an emergency option reserved for mental health crises. It’s also a form of self-care, a valuable tool for self-help, a weekly or bi-weekly check-in between yourself and your mind. In the last few years, it’s become an essential element of many students’ lives.
Mental health is notoriously difficult to maintain during times of academic duress, so as we approach midterms season, take care of yourself. This means saying no to some commitments and yes to others. It means making these decisions and not having to explain yourself.
Additionally, we ask faculty once again to be accommodating to students and make classes accessible outside of scheduled class time. Whether it be through recorded lectures or hybrid classes, these accommodations are helpful for students who are struggling to balance their physical health, mental health and academic responsibilities. We ask faculty and the administration once again to remember COVID-19, the flu and other respiratory illnesses of the season take a toll on a busy student’s mental health.
Your years in college might be the only time of your life where you’ll have free and easy access to professional mental health services — take advantage of that, and encourage others in need to do so as well. Take care of yourself, and take care of your tri-campus community.