At town hall, mental health survey results reveal alarming trends

Data from the Healthy Minds Survey is shedding light on the mental health climate among students.

Editor’s note: This article includes discussions of suicide, eating disorders and self-harm. 

In December 2021, BW Counseling Services partnered with the JED Foundation, a nonprofit supporting mental health initiatives for students and young adults, to conduct an 18-month study regarding the mental health climate on the BW campus. Following the presentation of the results on Nov. 7, students shared with The Exponent that they were troubled – though not surprised – by the statistics.  

Students were sent a survey asking about various thoughts, moods and mindsets that they had experienced over the past year. Once the survey was closed, the JED Foundation compiled the data, giving a projection of how students were feeling on campus. Eight hundred and forty-eight students responded out of 3,236, a response rate of 26.2 percent of the student body.    

The survey itself held various mental health screenings including an assessment of anxiety, depression and eating disorder risk. Forty-one percent of respondents were classified in the moderate to severe range for anxiety, 45 percent were classified in the same range for depression and 31 percent were said to be at risk of an eating disorder.    

“BW is not immune to the national conversation about the increasing needs for mental health services for college students, and how universities and colleges are working to make sure that we have the resources that we need to support students,” said Tim Hall, assistant director of counseling services.   

Andrew Smith, a junior political science major and vice president of Active Minds, an organization on campus that focuses on mental health, was a student representative for the JED foundation.   

“I think that mental health is important because it’s something that’s been underrepresented, stigmatized and not considered enough,” Smith said. “I think that mental health advocacy is a key aspect in the student’s ability to learn and develop and to go on past college and be able to deal with the trials of being an adult.”   

The data has yet to be shared widely with the rest of the community but will soon be available on the BW website , along with a strategic plan on actions that counseling services and the BW administration are making to improve the current climate, according to Sophia Kallergis, director of counseling services. The data was initially shared with attendees of an event advertised to students as “Refreshments with Dr. Rashid.” 

Participants of the survey were also asked about non-suicidal self-injury and suicidal thoughts or ideation.    

The results concluded that 31 percent of respondents had self-injured in the past year, and 18 percent – or 136 students – had “seriously” considered committing suicide. Of those 136 students, 40 percent – roughly 54 students – reported having made a plan and 7 percent had made a suicide attempt.   

Kallergis showed these statistics to the leadership council to expand their capacity to help the student population. This expansion included pushing for TimelyCare, a 24/7 virtual health service, to be renewed so that more students could seek help outside of the on-campus services that BW provides.    

“When I show both the self-harm, how much it impacts academics and how many of our students are experiencing suicidal ideation, when presented to the leadership council, which includes upper administration, the deans and all the higher-ups, they then approved to renew our contract with TimelyCare,” Kallergis said.  

TimelyCare is used as a supplement to the help that the counseling services provides.   

“We have some resources. We’re a small staff, but we want anybody who’s experiencing distress and wants help to be able to access that help,” Kallergis said.   

When asked about how mental health affected academic performance within the preceding four weeks, 88 percent of respondents indicated that their performance was negatively impacted at least once a week due to emotional or mental difficulties, and 58.81 percent indicated that poor mental health affected their lives a minimum of three times per week.    

Statistics were also shared on students’ feelings of loneliness. Twenty-four percent felt they lacked companionship, 31 percent felt left out and 33 percent felt isolated from others “most of the time.”   

In a broader sense, students were also asked if they were “flourishing,” which was determined by an eight-item summary of one’s self-perceived success in areas of their lives such as relationships, self-esteem, purpose and optimism. Sixty-six percent of participants reported they were not flourishing in their lives.   

Julia Sheringer, a third-year psychology major who attended the town hall event, said the data – while concerning – was in line with what she had expected.    

“I mean the numbers are concerning, but unfortunately I’m also not surprised either,” Sheringer said. “I think that, especially after the pandemic, everyone is becoming more aware of their mental health. And [mental distress] is so much more common than we think.”   

Kallie Polaski, a first-year integrated language arts major, said that adults seemed more surprised about the data than students.  

“I honestly was not shocked because I live in this generation and I know a lot of people who feel the same way,” Polaski said. “I think it does surprise me how shocked adults seem to be at these numbers because it is sad and it is something people need to be recognizing, but it’s also just something that a lot of people deal with in everyday life.”   

After the data was shared, the floor was opened for questions and comments and students at the event were encouraged to express what they wanted to see from the administration moving forward.    

Attendees expressed their desire for more concrete policies regarding absences for mental health reasons, student-led initiatives including peer-to-peer mental health resources and more communication with Southwest General Hospital in providing care to students that the BW campus is unable to provide.  

For those struggling with mental health, BW Counseling Services offers a 24/7 line for students in distress. The BW Counselor on Call can be reached at (440) 260-4399.