Mental health resources available for students

Sarah SheltonFeature Editor

Many students talk about their declining mental health and being overwhelmed with work.

According to Director of Counseling Services Nick Pinkerton, “71% of students in the South reported an increase in their level of stress and anxiety, and 46% reported an increase in their level of depression since May 2020.”

The CDC says 75% of Americans ages 18 to 24 report poor mental health related to the pandemic, and according to NMHI, suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students.

One place to go for mental health help is the Active Minds club.

“Active Minds advocates for mental health awareness and to end the stigma surrounding mental illness. As an organization, we aim to broaden the education of students and faculty at Southern Connecticut State University by providing access and awareness to resources, coping techniques, and the recovery process on an abundance of important mental health topics,” social work major and Active Minds vice president Maria Bernabucci, a junior, said.

Bernabucci said there is a wide variety of events organized by the organization.

“Deposit typically includes providing resources to students and holding an open dialogue about a specific topic,” Bernabucci said. “Each month we select a number of mental health issues that have dedicated national dates to raise awareness and ensure those struggling feel supported.”

Bernabucci said the club can connect students to additional resources or they are there to just listen.

“Students can contact Active Minds if they need help, although we are not professionals, we are a student-run organization that is always ready to help others. E-Board and Active Members aspire to be friendly faces on campus that others can come to when they need someone to listen to them,” Bernabucci said.

Another option is to see the college service dog, Officer Jules.

“He’s had 10,000 hours of training since he was nine weeks old. He’s almost two years old and he just graduated,” University Police Sgt. Cynthia Torres said. “So he had to pass public access tests to be a service animal. He’s ADA certified, Americans with Disabilities Act, and he can walk into any building like someone with a handicap sign. So there is no way to deny him access to these areas.

Torres said she was interested in doing group meetings with Jules for students.

“That first month he made sure he felt like it was his home base, that he had a safe space which is very calming and safe for him too, and then he has a very stable family life. So he goes from my house with me to here, which now excites him to come,” Torres said. “For the first two weeks it was like ‘Okay, we’re back here. What is that?’ So now when he walks through the door, he says, Oh, cool. I know what it is.”

Now that Jules has this home base, he is ready to help the students.

“So now we’re going to focus on the events already planned. So we can just drop by, or just walk through campus and start meeting more students, faculty, and staff. I put on his Instagram page [@k9jules_scsupd], if anyone would like to email if I have time, we can certainly arrange times. We’re starting to go head-to-head. But I think if we could get bands together, that would be interesting. That would make the most sense,” Torres said. “I hope the Student Center will do something like library hours or office hours, if you will.”

College police dog Jules sits near a southern police cruiser at Southern Connecticut State University on February 18 | Sarah Shelton

As a manager, Torres said she noticed her tail wagging when she encountered groups of students.

“He seems to really like groups of people. When it’s one-on-one, he’s a little softer,” Torres said. “So when there’s a bunch of students who are excited to see him, he picks that up. He’s really excited, you know? He likes to go to the Student Center and around the food court where there’s a lot activity and also likes to smell food.

Not only is Jules there to help the students of the university, but he is also there to help the university police.

“I had a not so good day yesterday, and I didn’t tell him that wasn’t the case, and he came over and just lay here [next to me] for a while,” Sergeant Kim Clare said. “He just knows.”

Finally, the consultation services, located in the Engleman room, are the place go and where most of the university’s mental health initiatives begin.

Director of Counseling Services Nick Pinkerton said one thing he wants students to know is a mobile app that also provides an aspect of his own counseling.

“[There is] an app called nod, which helps students overcome worries about isolation and loneliness. The number of students who struggled with these issues actually increased before the pandemic, and then they were exacerbated by the pandemic. So what’s cool about this app is that it kind of challenges students to step out of their comfort zone and start finding strategies for making friends and bonding for a feeling of community,” Pinkerton said.

To connect more with students, counseling services also plan to post their work on social media.

“We’re going to do a social media marketing campaign,” Pinkerton said. “Hopefully in the next few weeks there will be a few videos that get kicked out of students actually talking about the importance of mental health. we’re stronger together” sort of on the theme of “Southern Strong” but stronger together. We hope this turns into a hashtag. I’m not into that social media thing so much but hey, I wish that works.

Another thing Pinkerton adds is the university’s involvement with the Jed Foundation.

“Not many people know about the JED campus, but it’s pretty cool,” Pinkerton said. “That includes students, faculty, staff and community providers and just kind of a bunch of everyone to really bring mental health to the forefront of people’s attention.”

The goal of the JED Campus initiative is to create a mental health coalition on each campus represented by students, staff, faculty, administrators, to assess the mental health resources available and to reach a commitment of 20% on campus as part of the Healthy Minds Survey.

The big initiative going on right now, which is part of JED Campus, is a survey of students called the “Healthy Minds Survey”.

“The Healthy Mind Survey is a sort of nationally recognized survey of student mental health, addiction and wellness issues. The data we collect from this will be reviewed not only here at Southern , but actually at the system level, so all the other universities and the college system for the CSU system, and they’re going to look at it and try to figure out what that means in terms of the needs of our students and what resources should we make sure we have the resources to meet those mental health and wellness needs,” said Pinkerton. “This is a great opportunity for students to raise their voices, take action, and do something that will truly The challenge is that our students all lead very busy lives and taking 20-25 minutes out of their day to complete a survey is a big ask.

The survey is giving the first 500 students who take the survey a “Your voice matters” t-shirt and everyone who takes the survey will also be entered for a chance to win one of 10 Amazon gift cards of $100. Pinkerton said this was to encourage students to complete the survey so they could learn about student needs.

“The reality is that this survey is going to be sent to students in their email. You’ve probably received it already, but it’s from the University of Michigan, and that’s because the University of Michigan is the where the people doing the Healthy Mind study live. It’s a national survey, it’s where they’re from,” Pinkerton said. “So this survey is emailed out to students. J worked with to make sure they didn’t go into the spam folder, but you know how your email breaks things down into direct messages and then the other? It’ll go into that other column and I know that for a lot of people, myself included, that other column is almost always just junk mail, so I’m afraid there are a lot of students bypassing that.

Door to College Counseling Services | Sarah Shelton

Counseling Services even brought in the president of the university to help spread the word.

On Tuesday, February 15, President Joe Bertolino sent an email stating, “As part of Southern’s commitment to mental health and wellness, effective today, each of you will receive an email from a research team led by the University of Michigan asking that you complete the Healthy Minds Survey. This survey represents an important opportunity for you to share your experiences and observations at Southern to help us improve our services, outreach and holistic support Check your Southern email for your unique link.

Bertolino added, “Your voice matters, so I encourage you to take action and be heard. We are just #SouthernStrong, together.

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