At Idaho State University, the campus rec department partnered with the counseling and testing center to create the Rec Your Stress program, designed to help address the mental health crisis on campuses across the nation.
“When people refer to the ‘mental health crisis on campus,’ they are referencing the increasing rates of anxiety and/or depression in college students,” said Rick Pongratz, a licensed psychologist and director of the counseling and testing service at Idaho State University. “They’re also talking about the increasing rate with which students are seeking mental health services.”
Due to this increasing rate, Pongratz elaborated the need for additional staff to be able to see the number of students seeking help. “We’ve seen suicide rates in our country continue to climb and many students report feeling stressed and overwhelmed,” he said. “Mental health problems become learning problems as students are overwhelmed and less able to focus on their academics.”
To combat this potential lack of wellness for their campus community, the Rec Your Stress program was created and strategically located within campus recreation. “Students have easy access to counseling in a venue free from the stigma that can often inhibit them from seeking out care in a traditional mental health setting,” explained Pongratz. “It makes it easier for students to see that addressing their mental well-being is just as important as addressing their physical well-being, and nothing about which to feel shame.”
An added benefit of offering this program within campus recreation is the opportunity to introduce them to the rec center through tours, elaborate the importance of physical exercise, and make referrals to physical trainers and nutrition coaches with the overall goal of improving well-being.
Additionally, housing Rec Your Stress within campus recreation allows better access to bring in exercise machines so students can ride a stationary bike, or use another machine if they prefer, while speaking with a counselor. “This can make it easier for some people to share their thoughts and feelings than it would be for them in a traditional therapy setting,” elaborated Pongratz.
The opportunity for a partnership that will promote student wellness not only benefits the students, but both departments and the campus community as a whole. When great collaboration is noticed, it helps to generate buy-in from staff, resulting in better service for the students.
“Campus rec centers are critical to the prevention and care for our students and must be a piece of a comprehensive plan for student wellness,” said Pongratz. “This can be done through co-locating, having drop-in hours, and advertising and explaining the links between mental and physical health.”