By: Katelyn Norris and Wynn McDonald
Emily Pacey, a Bellarmine sophomore, has always struggled with mental health. In middle school, she suddenly stopped having an interest in everything, and in high school she began to develop crippling anxiety. When she transitioned to college, her first year was smooth sailing; but this year, all of her activities and work began to catch up her.
“I was becoming aware that my persistent anxiety was returning [with the] more I added onto my plate – work-study, a second job, two majors, a minor and another on-campus job was juggling too many things,” Pacey said. “I loved doing all of them, but I knew that I needed help.”
At its core, Pacey’s story may be familiar to many other students on campus. In a 2016 survey, the World Health Organization found that 39% of college students struggle with mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder. But according to a 2012 survey by the National Alliance on Mental Health, 40% of those afflicted never take advantage of on-campus resources. Dr. Gary Petiprin, director of the Counseling Center on campus, said that facing this stigma can be challenging—but mental wellness support is an essential part of taking care of student needs.
“Our bodies, our emotions and our minds are important and we’re not going to function optimally when we’re not feeling well,” Petiprin said. “We’re trying to really emphasize that to empower them to reach their goals.
The Bellarmine Counseling Center provides the services of six doctoral practicum students, a psychiatric nurse and two licensed psychologists, and services are free to all students. Petiprin said the center is a safe place for members of the Bellarmine community to come and talk about their mental health with a professional, but he also stressed that it is not meant to be a long-term solution.
“I describe our services as the primary care for mental health needs for students…a starting place,” Petiprin said.
The Counseling Center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and there is a crisis phone number for emergencies.
Unfortunately, due to the current pandemic, the Counseling Center has been deemed nonessential and can no longer take in-person appointments. However, counselors are still available for phone consultations during their regular hours of operation, and the center is in the process of setting up web conferencing services via telehealth.
The center is strongly encouraging students to utilize their online resources like the online mental health program TOA (Therapist Assisted Online). This is an evidence-based program for learning skills in anxiety management and mood improvement, which can be accessed through this link: https://www.bellarmine.edu/studentaffairs/counselingcenter/services/
Petiprin said that the Counseling Center is not for everyone. Some students may have needs beyond the center’s resources, and in those cases, referrals are provided.
“We can’t accommodate every client, but we encourage the therapist and client to be talking about that and planning ahead,” Petiprin said.
Of course, the Counseling Center isn’t the only mental health resource available to Bellarmine students.
“There’s lots of different approaches to help students manage their stress, but counselling is just one of those things,” Dean of Students Dr. Sean McGreevy said. “I think people are quick to say you need to go to the Counseling Center. We’re trying to be comprehensive and wholistic in our approach.”
Another resource for BU students is the Office of Identity and Inclusion (OII). For many, this office is as a safe space and its staff are faithful confidantes. OII Director Joe Frazier said it’s all about creating a space where students feel the most comfortable and feel welcome to come inside.
“The purpose of a safe space is to eliminate some of that stress that comes from your identity or aspects of your identity,” Frazier said.
The OII goes beyond providing just this for its visitors. Every semester, the office brings in doctoral students from the Counseling Center to make them feel more accessible, and the staff members have an open-door policy. The office also offers a “resources closet,” which holds various items that students have requested, from calculators to chest binders to noise-cancelling headphones. Frazier said the OII added the closet because they wanted to make students’ stressful lives just a little bit easier.
“I’m strategic in asking, ‘What do you all need?’ And then I go and get it,” he said.
While Bellarmine is operating online, so is the OII. Through social media and Zoom video conferences, the office staff has been facilitating a host of digital events, including Instagram dialogues, virtual “Home Food Fridays,” and virtual trap yoga. To keep up with future events or contact the office, follow it on Instagram (@bu_oii).
Besides these offices on campus, Bellarmine provides students with the resources necessary to reach out or assess their own mental health.Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Helen Grace Ryan said that from day one on campus, students are taught about campus resources and what is accessible to them. She also noted that resiliency and stress management is taught in the BU-100 classes. This allows students to be able to self-evaluate and become their own advocate.
“It’s not really all about counseling services for students’ mental health. It’s about wrap-around services,” Ryan said. “How can we arm students with skills they need? What self-assessments do they need to advocate for themselves?”
As a Bellarmine student, Pacey knew there were resources on campus for when she started to feel overwhelmed and needed to reach out for help. She said that after living with her altered mental health for so long, being in an environment that provided the resources she needed was beneficial.
“Bellarmine has always been a great resource in talking about mental health and welcoming students to have discussions,” Pacey said. “The Counseling Center has personally been incredibly beneficial and allowed me to find some relief in my persistent anxiety and accepting [of] certain childhood events that have left an impact on me as an adult.
The challenge of maintaining a healthy mental state in a stressful college environment is never easy, especially in times like these—but no student is alone. Taking advantage of Bellarmine’s mental health resources may just be the first step that any student needs.