Ask the Expert: Mental Health

University of Wyoming

The expert advice to answer your most pressing questions. This month, Lena Newlin, the assistant director of wellness at the University of Wyoming, shares advice on mental health.

Why is mental health important to address on campus? 

Lena Newlin: Research suggests there is a strong relationship between mental health and academic success. Students also self-report academic impacts due to mental health related issues (American College Health Association, National College Health Assessment). If a student isn’t well physically or psychologically, it will be harder for them to perform well academically.

What is your Wellness Center’s role in mental health?

LN: The Wellness Center at the University of Wyoming works to create and support a culture of well-being through environmental strategies, and educational programs and services. In 2018, we were fortunate to receive a Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention grant, so we hired a full-time professional to focus on student mental health promotion and suicide prevention. We follow the JED Foundation’s strategic planning model, and we conduct mental health and substance abuse screenings, resiliency educational programs, gatekeeper trainings, coordinate a campus-community coalition, promote help-seeking behavior, and disseminate gun locks.

What programs have worked well in addressing the mental health crisis? 

LN: At our Wellness Center, we offer a variety of programs to promote mental well-being. We offer mindfulness and meditation classes, self-compassion workshops, opportunities to play with therapy dogs and kittens, resiliency-based trainings and bystander intervention trainings, and mental health and substance abuse screenings. We work closely with our campus mental health care providers and refer students to resources.

How can other campus rec centers take steps in addressing this crisis? 

LN: It is important to take a comprehensive and strategic approach to addressing student mental health. Look to collaborate with other departments on campus. Start or become part of a coalition to address mental health on campus. Look at your institution’s data on student mental health and service utilization. What resources exist on campus? Look at national recommendations and best practices. Here are a few: JED Foundation; NASPA: Strategies for Addressing Mental Health Support on Campus; American College Health Association; and Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

What mental health staff or experts do you need in a rec center?

LN: While many universities are moving toward integrated health, counseling and recreation centers, this is not feasible for all campuses. It is important for campus rec centers to build good relationships with other campus partners that specifically address student mental health. Campus rec staff should be trained in how to recognize signs and symptoms of emotional distress, how to intervene, and how and where to refer students in crisis.   

Heather Hartmann
Heather Hartmann is the editor for Campus Rec Magazine. She can be reached at heather@peakemedia.com.

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