Mental health and student wellness issues are not unique to the small student population of Northwest but are rather an all-encompassing epidemic that several institutions in the state are working with experts to curb and find viable solutions for.

Northwest is comparable to three Missouri colleges in size and types of wellness services offered: Truman State University, Missouri Western State University and Southeast Missouri State University. Organizations like the American College Health Association are staffed with mental health experts who seek out and work with these institutions on how to best serve students — and institutions as a whole — in need.

One of the first steps the ACHA and other organizations suggest institutions take is having accessible counseling and wellness services through an array of outreach programs with a focus on support systems.

Wellness leaders on campuses across Missouri like Northwest’s Executive Director and Assistant Vice President of Health and Wellness Gerald Wilmes take an open-minded approach to that issue.

Wilmes, not a mental health professional, but rather a primary care doctor with mental health training, serves on the Wellness event team and leads in case management at the Wellness Center.

“Benchmarking with (other schools), … we’re probably in a better place,” Wilmes said. “A big part of this is the integration of clinical and mental.”

One competitor, Truman State University, located in Kirksville, Missouri, has an undergraduate population of 4,939 students who are offered a Student Health Center and counseling services, located in two different buildings.

The university provides an after-hours number for those in immediate need and also have the national suicide prevention hotline, 800-273-8255, posted on its website. The Health Center and counseling are open weekdays 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and again from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Much like Northwest and other institutions, Truman State offers a variety of workshops directed toward building support systems for students. However, Truman State goes about stress-busters in a completely unique way.

On the first floor of Pickler Memorial Library on Truman State’s campus, there is an area known as the “Wellness Zone” where students are provided massage chairs, coloring, games and puzzles to build one’s mind up with what the Truman website calls a “healthy outlet.”

“The Wellness Zone provides a stress-free environment on campus where students and faculty/staff can relax and practice stress management techniques,” the Truman website states.

Studies and reports conducted by ACHA show that when institutions take steps like Truman State has with the Wellness Zone, students feel more comfortable reaching out for services.

The ACHA conducts a yearly self-reported survey of close to 95,000 college students from universities across the nation, gathering general information about student health and mental health.

The reports found that visits to university counseling centers rose 42% between 1992 and 2002 at 11 midwestern institutions. The studies also found, for the past 10 years, close to 90% of counseling center directors say they are treating an increasing number of students with severe pathology.

Since experts say trends in mental health are only increasing exponentially on college campuses, the need for accessible support systems are mirroring that issue.

Institutions similar in size to Northwest now commonly receive suicide prevention grants from experts in organizations that help the school afford mental health programs.

Northwest was awarded a $306,000 grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in 2018, which still goes toward several programs, prevention and outreach.

The grant went toward funding a new suicide prevention program and its coordinator for three years, a position that Kristen Peltz, assistant director of wellness services, filled.

“We know that we are in a critical place with students and their psychological and emotional well-being,” Peltz said in a 2018 news release from the University. “The more we can be proactive, the more upstream we are and implementing programming and interventions, then hopefully we can make a difference.”

Wilmes, Peltz and the rest of the case management team at Wellness Services meet every week to discuss concerns the office may have.

Wilmes said the suicide prevention grant, now sparing only one year of funding for the program is a topic of discussion.

“It used to be you couldn’t get (the grant) if you’ve ever got it before,” Wilmes said. “As part of the grant, we realized several programs, including TAO (Therapy Assistance Online), … where students can receive helpful feedback.”

Another university wellness program funded in part by suicide prevention grants is Missouri Western State University.

According to collegetuitioncompare.com, 5,343 undergraduate students were enrolled at Missouri Western for the 2018-19 school year.

Missouri Western does not have an integrated wellness facility like Northwest. Missouri Western has a separate Counseling Center located in Eder Hall, while their Health Center, which takes care of students’ physical health needs, is located in Blum Union.

On the Counseling Center’s website, students can find the facility’s phone number or they can click on the staff directory to email a specific staff member in the Counseling Center.

Missouri Western’s Counseling Center has a few services that are different from Northwest’s. On their website, students have access to a 20 page booklet, “The Distressed Student Booklet.” The booklet contains a description of various mental health conditions along with their symptoms.

Missouri Western also provides a brochure for students called, the “Counseling Center Brochure.” The brochure covers what mental health conditions the Counseling Center services address. It also states when and how students can make appointments.

On Missouri Western’s Counseling Center website, there is also a link to Missouri’s higher education substance abuse consortium. This link addresses various substance abuses so students can find other resources off campus to get the necessary help that they need.

Southeast Missouri State University is another University that is comparable to Northwest. According to a three-year enrollment report, Southeast has 7,723 students enrolled as undergraduates.

Janice Ruesler, the director of counseling and disability services at Southeast, said in an email, 1,440 students utilize their counseling services, which is around 14% of their student body.

According to Southeast’s Counseling Services website, the counseling services are integrated with their Disability Services. These two services are based in Crisp Hall of the Southeast campus. The Campus Health Clinic is also located in Crisp Hall but is on a different floor.

Unlike Northwest, students who do not show up for appointments they have scheduled or do not give 24-hour notice are fined $25.

Wilmes said there is no definite way to solve the mental health epidemic. His point can be exemplified in that Northwest, Missouri Western, Truman State and Southeast all have different approaches to aiding students in need of counseling and other wellness services.

Northwest pays for their services with an Operational Budget, which contains a Designated Fee that all students pay.

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