WSU combats escalating mental health crises

Danya Gil

Wildcat Support Network
Weber State University photo Photo credit: Danya Gil

Weber State University has been awarded the $300,000 Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention Grant to fund the Wildcat Support Network, a peer-based program aimed to de-stigmatize discussions of mental health and provide support to those affected by depression, anxiety or stress.

The first portion of the Wildcat Support Network is to educate students as peer advocates and train them to recognize distress among peers.

WSU will offer the course Mental Health Awareness and Advocacy, where students can learn about mental health disorders, substance abuse and suicide prevention awareness. Campus and community mental health resources will be given to students to effectively respond to peers in crisis.

Amy Blunck, WSU’s coordinator of mental health initiatives, said the course is open to all students.

“I think it’s about students becoming better helpers. There’s a changing of campus culture that can take place where it’s okay to talk about issues,” Blunck said.

The second portion of the Wildcat Support Network is a peer support-group facilitator course offered to students who’ve completed Psychology 2810.

The course will teach students how to co-facilitate a support group. Trained students will provide mental health support to peers beginning midway through fall semester 2019.

The Wildcat Support Network will assist the increased demand for mental health services on campus. Currently, the student-to-counselor ratio at WSU is 1-to-1,837.

“The Counseling Center alone can’t meet all these needs, and there’s a huge chunk of people who would never come to a counselor in the first place,” Blunck said. “That’s a whole new population of folks we’re hoping to serve through this peer-support group.”

The 2018 National College Health Assessment indicates about 28 percent of students have had negative academic impacts — receiving lower grades on a test, taking incompletes or dropping courses — due to anxiety. Thirty-five percent of students surveyed had stress that negatively impacted their academics.

It warrants mentioning that 88 percent of those surveyed were between the ages of 18 and 24, 64 percent white, 81 percent heterosexual and 91 percent single.

According to the WSU website, 56 percent of students at WSU are over the age of 25, married, divorced, widowed or a parent. The average age of an undergraduate student is 26. The National College Health Assessment does not reach this demographic, a problem Blunck is aware of and wants to prevent within the Wildcat Support Network.

The possibility of reaching only psychology majors due to how the program is set up is also on Blunck’s radar.

“I want (the Wildcat Support Network) to be helpful to everyone, whatever college you’re coming from. It doesn’t matter what type of student you are. It’s stressful to be here, and that is what these peer support groups are about,” Blunck said.

WSU’s Counseling and Psychological Services Center received the grant money from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. $97,000 of the grant was issued on Nov. 30, and the remaining sum will be allocated within the next two years.