UCC, students discuss mental health resources and new national suicide hotline number
Jenna Abu-Lughod | Wednesday, February 8, 2023
Conversations surrounding mental health care and destigmatization continue across the country, as well on campus. In particular, many have heralded a new phone hotline, 988, specifically for people experiencing a suicidal crisis or emotional distress.
“Mental health is an ongoing issue that students face in an intensely academic environment like Notre Dame,” sophomore Jane Stallman, outreach chair of the Active Minds club, said in an email to The Observer.
Managing stress to a minimum is something many students strive for, especially with the intense workload most students face on a day-to-day basis. Chris Conway, director of the University Counseling Center (UCC), says that some of the most effective ways to minimize stress are getting enough sleep, moving your body, connecting with others and working to be present in whatever you are doing at the moment.
Kirsten Bains Williams, a senior and co-vice president of Active Minds, said students struggling with mental health have helpful resources on-campus to address their needs.
“This campus has a plethora of wellbeing resources for students that are not talked about enough,” Williams said in an email. “This includes (but is not limited to) free counseling at the UCC, health coaching through TimelyCare and meditation sessions on the Calm App.”
Conway also mentioned that the winter months and lack of sunshine have an impact on people’s moods. While staying active and connecting with others can be a helpful solution for many, some may prefer to seek out other resources.
“Talk to an advisor, faculty mentor, rector, RA or member of Campus Ministry. McWell offers Happy Lights and other resources, the Center for Student Support and Care is also beneficial and if it’s a pattern of mental health issues that needs professional help, students can come to the UCC for a drop-in appointment to explore possible UCC services to help,” he added.
Conway noted that the mental health of young people is not only a concern at Notre Dame, but nationally. In addition to the myriad of resources Notre Dame provides for its students, there is also now a suicide and crisis hotline available to anyone in the US. While the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline was launched in 2005, the number was changed to 988 in July of 2022.
“Originally, it was a 1-800 plus a nine-digit number that wasn’t easy to remember, so you had to look it up, thus creating a potentially significant barrier for a person in a crisis,” Conway said. “This new number, 988, is easy to remember and connects to a national network of more than 200 crisis centers that are connected through a call center. We have worked to change the phone number in the UCC’s materials to reflect the new 988 number.”
Williams added that by making the number shorter and more similar to the universal emergency number (911), she believes the U.S. is starting to recognize the importance of mental health — and in doing so, is taking a positive step toward supporting those in crisis and eradicating stigma.
Stallman mentioned that another important aspect of the 988 number is that it is a lifeline which not only assists those struggling with suicide, but also anyone facing a more general mental health crisis.
“I spoke with the director of the 988 project for Indiana last fall, and she mentioned that it should not be seen or referred to just as the suicide hotline, but as a more general crisis line. It offers resources for anyone experiencing a mental health, suicidal or substance abuse crisis,” Stallman said.
Stallman also said that while the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is an excellent resource for students — especially after they graduate — the UCC and other campus resources should not be neglected.
After the Notre Dame student senate voted to increase diversity in the UCC staff, the UCC has been working hard to ensure that their staff reflects the identities of their students.
“It is exciting to see the greater student body recognize this need and take tangible action to address it,” AnnahMarie Behn, a sophomore and another co-VP of Active Minds, said in an email.
“Currently, 47% of the UCC full-time staff hold diverse racial identities. Our staff members also hold a number of other diverse identities, including their professional training,” Conway shared in an email. “Additionally, the UCC’s part-time staff adds to the diversity of the staff as a whole.”
Conway highlighted that students have the ability to request to work with a counselor with a specific identity during drop-in appointments. She also mentioned that the UCC is working to support students of various backgrounds through ways other than increased staff diversity.
“We are offering support spaces for students with different identities, including for Black students, Black graduate students, DREAM ND students/students concerned about their own or their family’s immigration status, international undergrad students, international grad students and LGBTQ+ students. We’re offering an ‘understanding self and others’ counseling group that is being conducted in Spanish,” Conway said.
Senior Austin Wyman, president of Active Minds, said the club has been trying to influence the diversity of the UCC’s staff since 2020.
“Active Minds was involved with one of the first pushes for more diversity in the UCC in 2020, which resulted in the UCC hiring its first three Black counselors,” Wyman wrote. “We can’t forget how intimidating therapy as a process is, and how hard it is for people to be vulnerable with someone who fundamentally cannot relate to the same concerns.”
Beyond diversifying its staff, the UCC is working on a number of other projects.
“We’re working with [student government] on a tool that would help students know what the wait time is for a drop-in appointment in real-time. We hope it will launch soon,” Conway said.
Conway mentioned that the UCC is also offering the “Innsightful” psychoeducational program again this semester, as well as the Penn Resilience [email protected], an evidence-based program that boosts wellbeing.
“There are multiple opportunities for students and faculty and staff to participate in the program this semester,” she said.
Active Minds is also organizing mental health-related events and programs for students to get involved in this semester.
“At the end of March, we are hosting a summit to bring students and faculty together, fostering conversation around a key question: What makes for a learning experience that supports mental wellness?” Behn wrote.
“We also hope to host our Health & Wellness Training for student leaders on campus this semester,” Maya Mehigan, the secretary of Active Minds, shared in an email. “By inviting heads from UHS, UCC, McWell and other on-campus organizations, we teach participants everything they need to know about the health and wellness unit to take care of themselves and their club/organization.”