Whitworth Counseling Center participates in Annual Healthy Minds survey

by Michell Marufu| Contributing Writer 

In April 2017, the Whitworth University Counseling Centre participated and administered the Healthy Minds Survey to determine the health of undergraduate student in the school.

The Healthy Minds Survey is an annual web-based survey which examines mental health, service utilization, and related issues among undergraduate and graduate students. Through its involvement with the JED Campus foundation, the Counseling center embarked on a process of comprehensive systems, program and policy development to build on existing student mental health, substance abuse and suicide prevention efforts. Founded by Donna & Phil Satow in 1998, the JED foundation is a non-profit
organisation that partners with colleges and high schools to protect emotional health and prevent suicide for the nation’s teens and young adults.

The survey found that only 52 percent of the participating Whitworth students scored positive for psychological well-being. Psychological well-being is measured by the Flourishing scale, an eight-item summary measure of respondents’ self-esteem, sense of purpose and optimism. The scale was authored by seven psychological scientists in 2009. The scores range from 8-56, where 48 is the threshold for positive mental health. 32 percent of the students scored positive for mild depression, 14 percent for moderate depression, and 11 percent for severe depression. 49 percent of the students scored positive for some level of anxiety, and a devastating 36 percent had either thought of or engaged in either suicidal or non-suicidal self-injury. Four percent of the students had made a suicide plan and one percent had made a suicide attempt in the past year.

The results of this survey brought into center stage some very serious issues about the experiences of students on campus. Seven hundred and thirty-seven Whitworth students, the majority of whom were 18-22 years old, non-athletes, permanent campus residing students, religious, heterosexual and Caucasian participated in the survey. Seventy percent were female and 30 percent male. Apart from the gender discrepancy, these demographics were taken as representative of Whitworth’s position.

Whitworth will participate in the survey again in 2020 to assess the effectiveness of the methods to improve mental health by determining the new percentage of students with positive mental health, confidence, and utilization of support services.

Executive vice president of AWSU Dylan Reyes said that as a student leader, he understood how some of these numbers could come to be.

“As a student, workload is definitely a factor for poor mental health, but I don’t know if it’s the major factor,” Reyes said. “I know that home life, financial situations, and social pressures are also very significant in depression and anxiety. Especially at Whitworth, the stress of school just heightens already existing stress, which leads to these numbers that we are seeing. Students have to deal with a lot of things at the same time, and it can be difficult.”

This study determined that 87 percent of the students felt that they had a good support system for students going through difficult times, yet only 12 percent reported to have been seeing a counselor either on or off campus.

“This discrepancy between students’ opinions of the campus’s support system and their involvement with it is largely caused by the social stigma and stereotypes surrounding mental illness and receiving help for mental health. I know a lot of students who have the information about the resources that we have on campus, but don’t go because they are worried about what their peers will think of them. Some of them do eventually go to the counseling center after struggling to deal with things themselves and hurting themselves for a long time,” sophomore Utsal Shrestha said.

Having participated in a student panel to address mental health issues on campus, senior Connor Bruce said he recognized the benefits of the time they provide for worried students. He complimented the panels as a way for students to voice their concerns and ask questions which they might not otherwise have the space to ask, as well as learn about resources that they can make use of on campus.

“I think that many students are not aware of the specific type of help that they can receive through the counseling center,” Bruce said.

This help includes 10 free individual counseling sessions, group counseling sessions as well as assistance with academic and planning issues through the student success team other academic departments.

In a discussion about the effects of Whitworth’s “happy culture” on the students, Bruce said that the expectation of happiness contributed to students’ hesitation to talking about negative mental states.

“I think that by hiding your emotions all the time, you suppress some things that are detrimental to your health. People have to realize that you don’t have to be happy all the time, and you can ask for help when you need it,” Bruce said.

Happiness and positivity are some of the descriptors of Whitworth as a community and it makes sense that some students feel the pressure of having to appear happy so as to avoid criticism from their peers. However, this severely reduces the number spaces for those students who are in difficult mental states to voice their struggles, Bruce said

“Information about campus resources should be highlighted and covered more in the course syllabi that students receive at the beginning of the semester,” Bruce said. “This information is definitely alluded to, but nothing to the effect of how exactly students can receive help is described, and most students do not follow through on finding out information that is not covered in the syllabi.”

The Whitworth Counseling Center is located in Schumacher Hall, and student appointments can be made by email, phone and on-site.