Students gathered around a poster board presentation

Through LEAD topics and a variety of resources, WWU promotes Mental Health Awareness on campus

Mental Health is a serious societal issue, not just on college campuses, but across the globe. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) 1 in 5 adults will experience mental illness each year. For the college age bracket, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death. The first step to prevent this and help individuals seek medical attention is to spread awareness. LEAD events at William Woods have been giving students an opportunity to learn more about mental health and what resources are available.

The LEAD Award program, unique to William Woods, is a scholarship-based award granted to all traditional students who commit to campus and community involvement. Students can attend sporting events, seminars, concerts, films, comedy shows, performances, art exhibits and more and receive up to $5,000 each year for doing so.

Students walking in a suicide prevention walkDuring the year, there have been a number of LEAD events on campus that have focused on mental health issues, including addressing substance abuse, a student sharing her own mental health experiences, a social work project on mental health, documentaries, a suicide prevention walk and more.

“We are going to watch ‘The Ripple Effect’ and it’s a really hard documentary to get your hands on,” said Megan Rogers ’19.  “It’s about how one suicide can lead to more within a community. I am really interested to see this documentary myself and present it.“

Why are professors and students hosting LEAD events on mental health?

“College students are at an important transition point in their lives, as early adulthood is a particularly vulnerable stage of life for the onset or worsening of mental health issues,” said Jennifer Burton, Clinical Operations Manager at WWU. “While young adults are enjoying increased independence and self-awareness, it can also be a time of increased stress for many college-aged students. At Counseling and Health Services, we work to create a culture of wellness on campus, in which students are mindful of proactively supporting their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing and what to do if they encounter problems.”

A RESPECT speaker talking to a room of students

For those of us who have been through the transition or sent children off to college, it is easy to understand how the abrupt life change can lead to undue stress.  These LEAD events also help students recognize their friends’ mental health so they can encourage them to seek help if it is needed.

“ I just wanted to let others know there is hope and that there are others struggling with the same things,” said Alex Hamlin ’18, who hosted a LEAD event talking about her own experience with mental health.

Why is mental health so important to talk about?

Students at a posterboard presentationFor college students, mental health can have a big impact on their education and success as a student. If an individual is affected by mental illness, the task of going to classes and completing homework can become much harder. The college experience is also not only about school, and students also have to juggle time with friends, extracurricular activities, and of course meal time. Through our LEAD events, William Woods has already noticed a shift in students’ attitude over the last decade.

“This is a strong indicator that students are becoming more comfortable in talking to one another about mental health,” Burton said. “When students feel comfortable talking to one another about their mental and emotional health, it continues to break down barriers that stigma has created and promotes a culture of wellness. With millions suffering from mental illness in any given year and suicide being the second leading cause of death in America of people ages ten to thirty-four, it is necessary that we all educate ourselves and continue the conversation.”

All of the hosts of these LEAD events hoped that this factor was the biggest takeaway students received from attending them. The end goal was to have students be more comfortable talking to each other and staff about mental health.

“ I think education and advocacy is a big reason to talk about mental health,” said Hamlin. “When I was in school and younger, they would talk about bullying and ribbon weeks but not about mental health. So this is extremely valuable,” said Hamlin.

“It is likely that you either know someone who is struggling with mental health, or you are struggling with it yourself,” said Rogers “We need to improve the stigma around mental illness and let people know they are not alone.”

There are a variety of ways that William Woods students can begin to get help. Sometimes the easiest first step is talking to a friend. Students could then talk to a staff member as well and be encouraged to make an appointment at Counseling and Health Services on campus. The Community Advisors are also trained by the Counseling and Health Services office to help their residents during a stressful time.

National Guard members speaking about mental strength

Students can then schedule their own appointment with Counseling and Health Services free of charge. They can also set up a visit with the Nurse Practitioner who is trained to help with mental illness.  If the mental illness is serious and beyond what William Woods facilities can handle, the student is then guided to finding an appropriate program outside of the school that will work best for them.

“I went to the counseling center every week last year and it was so helpful for me.” Hamlin said.

What else should students learn about mental health?

“The most important takeaway for students is to make their individual mental health a priority throughout their lives and to continue to learn in this regard. I want them to realize that when they are struggling, they should not try to deal with that struggle alone. I want students to remember they can feel better if they will only reach out for help,” said Burton.


For a deeper look into a LEAD series focusing on mental health through the RESPECT Institute, read here.