Virginia Tech discusses its mental health initiatives

BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) – Virginia Tech’s mental health task force found that addressing the mental health and well-being of students, faculty and staff is more than just an on-campus issue.

The university held an online conversation with leaders from their mental health task force.

“So immediately our task force realized that, you know the typical age of our students is in the sweet spot of where their mental health concerns may manifest themselves. It’s important for us to realize that,” said Chris Wise, the assistant vice president for Student Affairs.

The group found more students are reporting depression and anxiety before they get to college, making it more than just a campus issue.

“So it actually looks like an increasing wave coming to the university rather than suddenly students come here and begin to have a lot more mental health problems,” said Laura Hungerford, the department head for Population Health Sciences in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.

Leaders looked at the impact of this year’s national politics, COVID and the recession on the mental health of the campus community and found that not much has changed since pre-pandemic.

“Student mental health didn’t change that much pre to post COVID for at least that brief period of three months, the only score that only got elevated were increased academic distress and increased stress from around family,” said Ellie Sturgis, director for the Cook Counseling Center.

“One of the findings we found is that mental health problem is indeed more frequent among those that have experienced prejudice or have experienced isolation. If you think about those two things and the events since March, you kind of understand where we are at today,” said Wise.

Wise said through the task force, they’ve gained a greater awareness of how mental health programming and services are helpful when it comes to early detection of symptoms.

“The demand for mental health services was growing consistently here at Tech, it had doubled over the past decade, the demand of students requesting those services,” said Wise.

The university is planning to add more services such as embedded counselors in academic colleges in addition to others.

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