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Giving Students a Break: Tackling Mental Health at Bethune-Cookman University

In what’s been called a “silent pandemic,” mental illness is on the rise among America’s youth. Even before the pandemic, experts warned that increasing reliance on social media and heightened academic pressure were taking a toll on adolescents, and today, surveys suggest that the majority of college students – about 60%  – meet the criteria for at least one mental health problem.

As a faculty member at Bethune-Cookman University, I saw that shift in real time. Around the same time students started coming back to campus in November 2021, there was a clear uptick in mental health crisis events. Some were struggling with financial instability or anxiety about school or athletics, others were coping with loneliness and uncertainty – but they all needed, and deserved, our support.

So, we took a closer look at these underlying issues and began pursuing ways to intervene before students reached the crisis point.

As an appointed representative for B-CU student athletes, I naturally gravitated toward finding ways to do more.

Life as a collegiate player isn’t always easy.  In today’s competitive environment, they face a lot of pressure – striving to excel on the court or on the field, while simultaneously adjusting to college life. For many it’s the first time they’ve been in charge of making their own schedules and accommodating for multiple responsibilities: attending class, studying, meeting the demands of practice and training, finding opportunities to socialize with friends.

Organizations like the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) set benchmarks for student athletes’ academic performance and graduation rates. A school’s responsibility is to equip their teams with the tools they need to balance academics and sports, keep their grades up, and earn a degree – and the only way to do that is to ensure they are as mentally fit as they are physically.

At Bethune-Cookman University, we’re working to integrate mental wellness workshops as part of our regular athletic curriculum. One informational session led by Dr. Daniel Hollar, Associate Professor of Psychology, hosted more than 60 students to learn about resilience and emotional health; from there, we aim to introduce smaller sessions that give athletes a chance to ask questions, do practice exercises, and interact with their peers.

Of course, it goes without saying that B-CU’s commitment to mental wellness is campus-wide. From needs-based support groups … to in-person yoga classes … to a “Contemplation Corner” where students can enjoy a quiet place with access to guided meditations or music … we are passionate about finding even more ways to support all of our students each and every day.

Like so many aspects of health, mental well-being is something we need to invest in proactively, not only reactively – and there’s no better time to take action. As educators responsible for the well-being of young adults, we need to respond to mental health needs not with stigma and shame, but with compassion and care.

Dr. Clarissa West-White is the University Archivist at Bethune-Cookman University and serves as a Faculty Representative for the Wildcats Athletics department.

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