Michael O’Brien ‘23
Editor in Chief
Mental health services have become a point of focus for many collegiate institutions across the United States in recent years, as a shifting attitude towards destigmatizing feelings such as depression and anxiety amongst students has started to become normalized. This focus has likewise been adopted at Holy Cross, highlighted by the recent Healthy Minds Survey that the College is inviting students to participate in.
The survey is being offered in conjunction with the College’s JED Task Force, which includes representatives from several different areas of campus life, including staff such as Ann Sheehy of the biology department and Paul Galvinhill, Director of the Counseling Center. The JED Foundation is “ a nonprofit that protects emotional health and prevents suicide for our nation’s teens and young adults, giving them the skills and support they need to thrive today…and tomorrow.”
To gain more insights into the goals of the survey and what the administration is hoping to achieve with its results, I caught up with Prof. Sheehy and Mr. Galvinhill. They are two of the directors of the survey, which is likewise part of a four year process to improve mental health services on campus.
Off the bat, I was curious as to why it’s so important that as many students fill out the survey as possible and what the task force is seeking to accomplish, to which Prof. Sheehy responded “The Healthy Minds survey is being administered as part of the JED Initiative, which is a four year program that the College has gotten a donation to participate in, and one of the foundational pieces is administering the survey early on in the process. It’s essentially to evaluate the mental health and wellness of the student community, and it’s an opportunity for students to have a voice in what’s working on campus, but probably more importantly, things that are falling short.”
While Prof. Sheehy described herself as a “layperson” in terms of mental health services as she primarily focuses on teaching, this description of the survey helped to paint a clear idea of what exactly the College is striving for through administering this survey. Echoing Prof. Sheehy’s points, Mr. Galvinhill noted “Last year we saw 32% of students come to the Counseling Center, but this survey went out to all 3,190 students at Holy Cross, so there’s a real opportunity for everyone that may not have a voice around this to have a voice, to express what they see as pressing issues around mental health, and what they believe the campus could be doing better to help support mental health. From a survey perspective, it’s sort of a snapshot of the students who are here this year, but the more students that respond, the better snapshot we’re going to get of what students’ experiences actually are.”
The task force’s goal to have a holistic representation of students on campus was encouraging to hear, as it seems that the survey truly wants to account for a multitude of experiences students have had on campus. One figure that stuck out to me when Mr. Galvinhill was speaking is that nearly one-third of students on campus visited the Counseling Center in some capacity last year; a number that seems quite high. I asked Mr. Galvinhill whether this figure was a concern, or if this figure points to the fact that more students have grown to feel comfortable regarding seeking help to talk to someone about their mental health.
Mr. Galvhill responded “I’ve been here about 15 years, and in the time I’ve been here we’ve gone from 9% utilization to 32% last year, and it’s increased incrementally every year. The important thing to know is prior to the pandemic, we were already seeing this mental health crisis where more and more students were needing support and not always having enough resources available to them. You’ll hear some narrative on the national level saying that ‘We can’t just throw more staff at it,’ for example; as the director, I’m not there yet, there’s still more room for more staff because we haven’t reached the ceiling yet in what that support needs to look like. So it’s always sort of trying to catch up rather than getting ahead of it. But yes, I think we have a generation of students who have talked and heard about mental health in middle school, high school, and it wasn’t something that was kept secretive. I think we have a lot more access through the Internet and social media for students to connect with peers and try to contextualize their struggles. All of that combines to make it so that students have more finesse about reaching out on their own to get the connection they need.”
This point on students having the courage to reach out to mental health professionals on their own in turn inspired me to ask Prof. Sheehy how she sees students interacting with their mental health in a classroom setting with their professors, which she responded to by saying “I would hear from students in my courses, and in general, students do not appear satisfied with the situation on campus in terms of being able to support them in ways that are meaningful, and I think everyone is struggling a little with what exactly that means. I would say that students I’ve seen are across the spectrum; there are students that need short term interventions, and then I have students who are really struggling who need much more support than that. The faculty like myself get emails saying things like ‘Try not to give students homework over break,’ but that’s not really sufficient. We need to think more thoughtfully and reflect on issues that matter, but that’s going to require communication, and it needs to be a more coordinated effort. So overall, I think it’s safe to say that some students need more support than others.”
Hearing from Mr. Galvinhill and Prof. Sheehy’s different experiences with working towards bettering mental health services on campus helps to highlight the fact that, while the College is making major strides to ensure that students feel that they have a safe space for their mental wellbeing, there is still plenty more to be done. Hopefully the Healthy Minds Survey is an effective step in doing so. Students have until Nov. 23 to complete the survey with a chance at winning cash prizes for their participation.
Image courtesy of Michael O’brien ’23