Students find mental health resources in unexpected places – The Scarlet and Black
Mira Diamond Berman
Grinnell College, like any other college, is not without stress. Juggling school work can be difficult, and adding clubs, work, and sports can add to the pressure. The College offers resources for students struggling with mental health issues, such as Student Health and Wellbeing Counselors (SHAWs) and recently launched school-wide mental health days called “Working Differently Days”.
In an effort to create a healthier environment, many Grinnell students have also taken charge of their mental well-being.
Technically, all of the school’s health resources are concentrated through SHAW. In addition to counselors, SHAW also has a psychiatrist available to students. Unfortunately, SHAW counselors are often not accessible due to a shortage of counselors and there is usually a two-week wait time to book an appointment, according to Athena Frasca `23, Community Counselor (CA) and Mentor of student athletes (SAM) for the athletics team.
Grinnell also has a student chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which is currently overseen by Co-Vice Presidents Nina Takashima `24 and Dorothy Anna Russell `24. The goal of the club is to raise awareness of mental health issues and provide support to students struggling with their mental health.
“We’re trying to raise awareness about mental health issues and not just broaden awareness, but just let people know that it’s okay to be mentally unstable,” Takashima said. “Even if people don’t get diagnosed with mental illness, or whatever, there are days when you might not feel as good, or you know, there are ups and downs. …and there are ways to move forward with that.
NAMI plans weekly activities during the semester to help students relax and relieve stress. “We did yoga for relaxation, like meditation, even arts and crafts activities. Like tonight, we’re going to do Valentine’s Day cards,” Takashima said.
In addition to mental health-focused clubs, there are also SAMs and CAs, which are trained in the mental health resources offered on campus.
“SAMs are trained in campus resources and crisis management and also. just like lending a helping hand or as a shoulder to lean on for their teammates,” Frasca said.
SAMs are meant to be a medium that can guide students to available resources while CAs help students personally. The role of a SAM is often confused with the responsibilities of a CA. “We’re not really meant to be like therapists or counselors. And we don’t play the same role that CAs are often compared to SAMs in that we kind of have the same background, but CAs are supposed to like to sit down and talk more,” Frasca said.
Through Frasca’s work as a CA, she has noticed that a major hurdle for students is having to call SHAW or go to the SHAW center to ask to meet with a counselor. “I wish you didn’t have to call to make an appointment with the counsellors. I’m also a CA and that’s something that keeps a lot of people in my experience from enjoying doing it themselves,” she said. “It would be really nice to be able to register online.”
The need for SHAW counselors may be exacerbated by the amount of academic stress at Grinnell as well as the isolated area in which Grinnell resides. “We have a lot more work to do than many of our peer institutions, from what I understand. And we’re in the middle of nowhere, there’s less social stuff,” Frasca said.
Many Grinnellians also feel pressure to do well in school and in extracurricular activities, which adds to stress. “I feel like a lot of Grinnell students maybe have internalized stress. Maybe it’s their pressure to be themselves to do well in school to do well in sports,” Takashima said. “I think it’s more like an internal thing like a personal one. Rather than loving the community which puts stress on people.
Although mental illness continues to be stigmatized, Frasca notes that Grinnell tries to maintain an open and caring culture of mental health. “I think Grinnell is really unique in that we’re very open to talking about it. [mental health]. Of course, however, there is plenty of room to grow.
If you or a friend are having difficulty, you can contact trained student advocates using their live chat feature or call the Crisis Intervention Line anytime (1-800-270-1620).