Wellness Center advocates mental health awareness as winter depression looms for students

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Rowan is making a harder push toward mental health awareness.

According to an annual report by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, 150,483 college and university students asked for treatment for mental illnesses in 2016. In response to this, Colleges all across South Jersey have been vamping up their mental health programs, sending a warm welcome to students in need. Although the fall semester has just began, schools have been reaching out to students as quickly as possible.

At the start of the semester, all students at Rowan University received an email from their Wellness Center, which informed them of their new crisis hotline, a 24-hour phone line available to students struggling with mental troubles.

Michael Viola, Rowan University’s assistant vice president of Student Affairs is a strong advocate for mental health awareness. Being an extremely social person with so many peers, Viola has seen mental illnesses affect those around him and recognizes that an open conversation about the issue on campuses is something new.

“I think that previous generations have always closeted things such as mental illnesses and now we are going in a direction that’s more speaking about it, making awareness and solving those kind of issues,” Viola said.

Viola, a junior marketing and management major in his junior year at Rowan and within his time at the university he has witnessed mental illness affect students first hand.

“A lot of students fear they will be stigmatized by it,” Viola said. “Sometimes they think they can handle it on their own or they turn to things such as alcohol or drugs instead of reaching out and going to places such as the counseling center.”

Although Viola has seen mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and intense stress sabotage some of his peers and lead them down dark paths, he also acknowledges the services that Rowan offers students.

“As far as professors, I know we have been working towards equal opportunities for all students academically when they’ve been struggling with things such as mental illness and anxiety. Each semester we have a week dedicated towards mental health awareness and showing students all the different resources that they have and can turn to instead of feeling like they are alone,” he said.

Dr. Stacey Colman-Cahn, staff psychologist at Rowan University, expressed that the Wellness Center is extremely active in making awareness of mental illnesses on campus.

“We want every single Rowan student to feel welcome at the Wellness Center. We are passionate about embracing diversity and we offer over a dozen different therapy groups to meet the needs of a wide range of students. The Wellness Center reaches out across campus, providing workshops to various organizations and academic departments. We’re active in student orientation as well,” Cahn said.

Cahn also said that mental illness has not always been such an active and present topic of conversation. Especially on college campuses, complete acceptance of the issue still has a long way to go.

“The stigma around mental illness is a tremendous barrier when it comes to seeking care. We’ve come a long way over the past 20 years, but we still have a long way to go. Gender identity is a good example. Fortunately, while awareness has increased nationwide, we have more work to do in terms of acceptance,” she said.

However, many students still complain that Rowan’s mental health resources are lacking. Last year, Associate Vice President for Student Wellness David Rubenstein acknowledged the need for more counselors and is working on growing its mental health resource staff.

The Wellness Center also offers a list of local mental health resources in the surrounding community.

Keli Sharkey, a recent graduate from Stockton University, is earning her degree in art education at Rowan. Sharkey said that Stockton is also aware of the issues and countless students have with their mental health and took steps to spread awareness.

“Stockton had Mental Health Awareness Week. They would line the campus with donated shoes that represented lives lost in suicide. We also had therapists on campus and were constantly reminded of them through emails,” Sharkey said.

Similarly to this, Rowan University recently began to ask people who had visited the Wellness Center to write down “three reasons to live” and decorated the windows to the building with them. So far, Rowan’s campus has come up with more than 300 reasons to live.

Additional reporting by Ashleigh Albert.

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