Betsy Sugar ‘21
According to the American Psychology Association (APA), between 2014 and 2015 colleges nationwide saw a 30% rise in students seeking help and appointments from counseling centers. The same study found that 45% of the students listed stress as one of their reasons for scheduling a counseling appointment. Depression and anxiety were the two other leading reasons for making appointments.
Davidson follows this trend. The Counseling Center offers a variety of options for students who desire help, including up to 20 free counseling sessions a year, group counseling, and many other resources that can be found on their website. However, students may no longer schedule a recurring appointment in advance. Now they can only schedule week by week with their counselor. The goal is to keep open space for other students, but it may make it harder to ensure a regular appointment.
Yet even with all of these resources, the Director of the Counseling Center, Dr. Trish Murray, wanted to offer more, and she has implemented a new resource open to students. At the end of last year, many students applied to become one of eight new Mental Health Ambassadors. The Mental Health Ambassadors (MHAs) are “a volunteer group of students who are committed to raising awareness and implementing programming about mental health issues that are specific to the college experience,” according to the Counseling Center’s website.
Murray has been working over the past two years to establish the Ambassador positions on campus. She modeled the application and general function of the MHAs after the Student Health Advisors already active on campus. The Ambassadors, similar to the Advisors, will focus on programming and outreach, although they will work with and through the Counseling Center as opposed to Georgia Ringle’s office and the Health Center.
The MHAs will implement programming on campus to address common mental health issues, be a peer resource, combat stigma around mental health problems, and provide information about and referrals to the various resources on campus. Most importantly, Murray expressed her hope that the MHAs will “let students know that they’re not alone, that [the MHAs] experienced those things too.”
The MHAs will make themselves known throughout campus this semester. by introducing themselves and their programs to residence halls, eating houses, and fraternities. Caroline Berberian ‘21, one of the new MHAs, hopes the introductions will also “pop the bubble of the stigmatization of vulnerability on campus.”
Some of the programs the Ambassadors plan to bring include personalized and casual outlets for students to cope with stress and foster healthy mental health practices. Two such programs include Trail Treks and Coffee Talks. Similar to Murray’s Walk About It last semester, two Ambassadors will lead walks on the cross country trails as an open opportunity for students to move and talk through stressers. Students will also be able to sign up for Coffee Talks, which will allow students to sit one on one with an Ambassador and discuss whatever is on their mind in an informal setting with a peer.
The Ambassadors are intentionally trying to initiate programming that can occur with regularity to account for the waves of stress that occur throughout the semester. Berberian explained the goals of programs like Trail Treks and Coffee Talks are to “add in more ways we can mitigate those fears and those problems that come with stressful weeks for all people regardless of when they’re having their ‘hell week.’”
The Mental Health Ambassadors are setting out to promote beneficial mental health habits and resources across campus. Berberian explained that the MHAs are not extensions of the school counselors, but rather that they “have been given a platform to help because [they] also have been through the same situations as others on campus.”
Murray expressed similar sentiments. The Ambassadors are not supposed to function like the counselors hired by the school, which was intentional on Murray’s part. She best summed up the role of the Ambassadors in explaining, “not everyone needs to come see a counselor, but everyone needs to know that someone cares.”