OSU fortifying mental health resources through partnership with national foundation

Story provided by OSU News

Partnering with a national foundation, students, faculty and staff, Oklahoma State University is working hard to fortify its campus mental health resources.

As the COVID-19 pandemic passes the yearlong mark in the United States, many are struggling with mental health concerns in a time of isolation, social distancing and upheavals to life in general. OSU is bolstering the help and resources it offers students, staff and faculty.

Dr. Doug Hallenbeck, OSU vice president for student affairs, said improving options and normalizing the conversation surrounding mental health is critical.

“We have seen here at OSU, as has the entire country, an increase in mental health concerns. We have also seen an increase in the willingness of students to seek out opportunities to strengthen their own mental health,” Hallenbeck said. “The culture of care that we are creating here on campus focuses on providing the tools and skills we all need to care for one another. That is the Cowboy way.”

Since 2019, OSU has partnered with the JED Foundation to improve campus mental health resources. The JED Foundation is a nationally recognized nonprofit devoted to mental health and suicide prevention in teens and young adults.

Being a JED campus began with the Healthy Minds Study, a survey of more than 2,000 students that provided baseline data on depression, anxiety, suicide ideation, lifetime diagnoses, counseling engagement and the perception of campus services. That was followed by the JED Campus Assessment Survey that reviewed OSU’s programs, services, policies, procedures and communication strategies.

As part of the program, OSU formed the Campus Mental Health Coalition in the fall of 2019 to act as an advising group. Dr. Todd Misener, OSU’s chief wellness officer, said the coalition has members from across campus, including the president’s office, student groups, Counseling Services, Housing and Residential Life and more.

“As a result of what we have learned through the JED campus process, we created a strategic plan that is already having a positive impact on campus,” Misener said. “Two of the main areas of focus are mental health training and resource awareness.”

More than 1,000 OSU employees have already taken one online training program, called QPR (Question. Persuade. Refer.). The suicide prevention course teaches how to recognize the warning signs of a suicidal crisis and question, persuade and refer someone to help.

Several such gatekeeper trainings are available for students and employees. All the resources available from training to counseling options are being compiled and promoted through a comprehensive mental health action plan.

“Collaborations with the Student Government Association’s mental health initiatives and the new student mental health promotion group Active Minds have been developed and will expand,” Misener said. “We’ve also developed and launched a comprehensive mental health action plan that includes a dedicated website, a video series and an awareness campaign. It’s impressive to me what this very focused effort has yielded so far, and there’s still more to come.”

A student-led campaign to help dispel the stigma associated with mental health concerns, called “Let’s Talk About It,” aims to make discussions about such concerns open and normal.

While Oklahoma State was forced to cancel its traditional spring break due to COVID-19, the university recognizes that students still need a break. Hence, three mental wellness days have been scheduled this spring, with a number of healthy, stress-relieving activities during each.

Chris Barlow, senior director of University Health, Counseling and Accessibility Services, said the university’s full strategic plan should be fully implemented in the next two years. The Healthy Minds Study will be readministered in 2023 to measure changes in the overall campus mental health climate.

“This process is more important now than ever before,” Barlow said. “It was fortunate we chose to begin the process before the arrival of the pandemic, which brought on untold additional stressors for our students and staff. We are excited about what’s been accomplished so far.”