College is supposed to be the best four years of your life.  Yet during my freshman year I had to attend the funeral of one of my best friends.  Understandably, this put a dark cloud over my first year of college.

The people you meet in college can become family so quickly, becoming your home away from home.  They are there through thick and thin.  From hours spent studying together to the late night adventures, my friend was there through it all.  He was there for the highs and lows; yet I was unable to be there for him in his greatest time of need.  He died by suicide over the summer when we were transitioning into our sophomore year of college. Like too many college students across the country, my friend group lost one of its shining stars that summer.  

There is a mental health crisis on college campuses across Connecticut.  In Connecticut during the fall of 2020, 39% of college students reported symptoms of depression and anxiety.  In addition, 83% of students believe their mental health has negatively impacted their academic performance.  As in the sad case of my friend, an untreated mental health crisis can lead to suicidal ideation. Research has shown  that about 12% of undergraduate students experienced suicidal ideation in 2019 and more than 5% made a suicide plan. 

With overwhelmed campus counseling centers, many students are not getting the support they need.  It is estimated nationwide that full-time college counselors are responsible for on average 120 students each.  Many universities promote same-day intake meetings to help provide students with fast resources.  This is beneficial to the student so they avoid waiting for long periods of time to get help.  However, many counselors are not able to spend enough time with the students due to having such a large caseload.  

There have been attempts at reforming this issue.  In 2021, Governor Ned Lamont gave $2.7 million to colleges and universities in Connecticut to address the mental health struggles that students were facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Colleges and universities were able to use these resources to increase access to care while educating students and faculty about the availability of these resources. While this helped expand access momentarily, there is still a need to better promote mental health on college campuses.

Morgan Rogers

It is the job of the entire community to bring wellness to the college campus.  Two ways to help promote a positive mental health on college campuses include mental health wellness days and support groups.  Some colleges and universities allow students to have two absences per course without penalty.  These types of absences are often used when a person might be sick or have appointments.  However, not all colleges allow this policy and in many courses one missed class will reduce their overall grade.  By providing students with mental health excused absences, they are able to take time to regroup and get the support they need.  During these mental health excused absences, students will have to schedule a meeting with a specific counselor.  Based on this meeting, the counselor will determine if the student qualifies for a mental health wellness day or if they should be counted for a regular absence.  Students will have follow-up meetings to ensure their mental health is better.  These mental health days can help prevent burnout and reduce the likelihood of a mental health crisis.  In Connecticut, there is a policy for students in kindergarten to 12th grade providing two mental health days each year.  Why are college students not protected under this public policy? 

Another way to promote wellness on college campuses is by offering peer support groups.  These groups can discuss topics such as stress, time management, and self care.  With promotion, many college students will hear about these group meetings.  Hopefully enough people will feel comfortable to attend so that many people can benefit from these sessions.  If students feel like they have positive takeaways, they might not need to seek one-on-one counseling.  This will also reduce the case load for the counselors.

The desire for mental health treatment to improve is not a request, it is a demand.  Reforms should be made within public policy to ensure students receive accommodations for their mental health such as excused mental health days.  As students are protected under federal law for physical disabilities, it is wrong to not protect those with a mental illness as this is discrimination.  Alongside these reforms, faculty and staff need to be trained on mental illness and how this can impact their students.  With increased feelings of being overwhelmed, students do not have a strong enough support system.  My friend’s death should be a lesson to everyone.  College students are the future and deserve better support.

I want to leave you with this question: how many more students must suffer before they get the proper help they need?

Morgan Rogers is a senior at Sacred Heart University, majoring in Health Science with a concentration in Public Health with minors in Honors, Human Nutrition, and Psychology.