Often, when we talk about mental health, we want the easy answer. Perhaps throwing more money at mental health resources will solve the problem or having more outreach for counselors will help. Mental health is an issue that runs much deeper than some binary therapy-or-not system. Many may suffer from mental stress without wanting to use the resources available, others may face stigma about them and so on. As much as mental health is an issue of resources and funding, it also a cultural issue that we can look at in more abstract ways.
To this end, the Innovate Wellness Challenge began last week. Fifteen teams came up with novel plans to increase “wellness,” defined in various ways. Projects ranged from changing the lighting around campus to informing students more concretely of the resources around campus. While many of these solutions are small and honestly a bit cutesy at first glance, the Innovate Wellness Challenge picks at the other prong of how we should discuss mental health on campus.
There are many aspects of our lives that affect our well-being in ways we don’t even think about. If we do not have private spaces to go to, we can get a bit claustrophobic. If we are not given tools and advice to self-reflect and improve, we can become lost. If we have five exams in one week, we can feel overwhelmed. These are not problems that can simply be solved by blindly increasing resources. They require novel solutions and effort expended in the right way.
Opening up the discussion to students is a key way to achieve actual productive change. As well as professors and administrators understand much of the campus culture, they are not living the lives of students. They do not see the world (or even the university) in the same way. Especially when researching these more novel, abstract changes, student input — like through the Innovate Wellness Challenge — is key.
Is this challenge the missing puzzle piece to solve the mental health crisis on college campuses? No, of course not. Relative to the scope of the issue, any one project that comes to fruition out of this will be small change. But it represents a way of thinking about mental health that is important to consider. Yes, we need more and better resources for organizations like Counseling and Mental Health Services. Meanwhile, we also need to reflect on how we have been doing things for years, and how we could and should change these systems.
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