The Health Promotion student team registers participants for a wellness program.

Amid the national conversation about the mental health of today’s college students, Macalester is building a big-picture plan that expands well beyond the doors of the health and wellness office—and well beyond symptom treatment alone. The goal: create an environment that supports all students, all over campus, in prioritizing their well-being as they grapple with pressure that has followed them from an early age. “This is prevention,” says director of counseling Liz Schneider-Bateman, “and this is where we can make the most significant impact.”

The strategy reflects what’s happening—and what has to change—at colleges around the country, says Schneider-Bateman, where traditional solutions such as adding more counselors and creating new ways to access care simply aren’t quelling demand from a growing number of students who struggle with anxiety and depression. Macalester continues to experience an increase in the need for mental health services, despite expanding the counseling team’s service capacity by 40 percent since 2013 and adding a 24/7 counseling support phone system, among other outreach initiatives. “This isn’t going to get solved in the clinic, which is the traditional approach,” says associate dean of student services Denise Ward. “If we view this as a clinical problem, only practitioners can deal with it. But if we see this as a community effort, then we can all get our hands around it.”

This fall Macalester launches a four-year partnership with the national JED Foundation’s campus program, joining 250 institutions that enroll three million students. With support from the foundation, cross-campus teams (including student representatives) will develop comprehensive plans to promote well-being, including substance abuse and suicide prevention. They’ll also administer a national mental health survey to begin and conclude the collaboration. “We’ll create a model that can be owned and implemented by the entire community,” Ward says.

For faculty, that could mean setting an assignment’s deadline for 8 p.m. instead of 8 a.m. to discourage staying up late. Last year, three dozen professors incorporated a statement about mental health resources into their syllabi. Longtime health promotion programs—for example, weaving a sleep education curriculum into first-year courses and offering free movement classes—will further focus on self-care and resilience initiatives. And across campus, Ward hopes to hear more honest conversations about juggling expectations and pressure about perfectionism—and less chatter glorifying packed schedules or pulling all-nighters.

It’s a long-term initiative, but staff expect the increased emphasis on emotional health to be more visible almost immediately this fall. And that’s progress, says Ward: “This gives us the opportunity to deepen the student experience and enrich the learning experience. We’re helping students build the skills—and this is something we all can do.”

November 1 2019

Back to top