The Westhampton College Government Association (WCGA) recently created a Mental Health Caucus as a direct response to the growing demand for mental health services at the University of Richmond.
The need for more resources for those suffering from mental illness became apparent during the fall 2018 semester. Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) had an influx of appointment requests that caused the longest waitlist in university history. WCGA members saw this as an opportunity to address the growing need for mental health education on campus.
WCGA President Monica Stack, senior, and Class of 2022 Senator Mia Dini, first-year, are key players in the caucus, through which they hope to raise awareness about mental health, make known to students the existing mental health resources on campus and teach peers how to manage their stress.
“Mental health is something that is starting to get the recognition it deserves and the resources it deserves,” Stack said. “Now is the time to come together and change."
Evidence of this change is emerging already, said junior Ally Charleston, WCGA chair of external affairs, in a Feb. 27 WCGA meeting.
CAPS Director Peter LeViness echoed this sentiment, citing the large CAPS waitlist.
"I think, from the weight of the data that I've seen, the primary driving factor, although there are some increases in some disorders ... is the reduced stigma," he said. "The current generation of students is much more willing to access mental health care when they have a need, and I think that's a reflection of decades of successful stigma reduction."
One of the caucus' major goals is promoting a culture of self-care, Stack and Dini said.
“I personally feel like we as a society, and especially at Richmond, tend to put our mental health last," Dini said. "And we tend to put what we have to do and our schoolwork and academics and all these things above it."
To promote a culture of self-care, the caucus collaborated with the Interfraternity Council, National Panhellenic Conference, National Pan-Hellenic Council, CAPS, Richmond College Student Government Association (RCSGA), Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, Health Bandits, Jepson School of Leadership Studies Student Government and the Robins School of Business Student Government Association to put together a Mental Health Week.
The week, which ran from March 18-24, featured multiple events, such as an ally workshop and the annual In My Mind open mic night, to raise awareness of mental illnesses as well as educational programs or practices that can foster a positive mental health environment at UR.
“I think there’s a disconnect on Richmond’s campus," Stack said. "There are all of these resources and people either don’t know about them or don’t know how to access them."
Jesse Amankwaah, sophomore class chair for RCSGA, assisted WCGA in the creation of Mental Health Week. During his freshman year, Amankwaah was sexually assaulted, and found that the school lacked resources for male sexual assault survivors, he said.
Amankwaah found that he coped best by meeting other men who had suffered similar experiences. Amankwaah hoped that, through Mental Health Week, UR students would develop the communal aspect of promoting positive mental health, he said.
“Mental health is kind of individualistic right now, in that ‘everybody go get a therapist,'" Amankwaah said. "But that’s the long way. The short way is building a community that talks and that has spaces to do stuff like that."
In addition to Mental Health Week, the caucus has created an Instagram account, @takecareofurmind, where the caucus shares posts that promote self-care and positive mental health.
“The account has received direct messages from Richmond students, saying that they loved the account and the account brightened up their day, which was the goal of the WCGA caucus," Dini said.
The caucus was created shortly before sophomore football player Augustus Lee's suicide in December 2018.
The tragedy reinforced how important a culture of positive mental health is on a college campus, Stack said.
“[Mental illness] does not discriminate," Dini said, adding to Stack's point. "You can be a D1 student-athlete at an amazing school, and your mental health can still get to you."
The tragedy motivated the caucus to work much faster, Amankwaah said. Because of Lee's death, it seemed that increased mental health awareness was needed more than ever.
WCGA encourages students to get involved with these and other such efforts to make a difference in mental health awareness on campus. Students are welcome to attend open WCGA meetings at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesdays in the Westhampton Deanery Living Room.
Amankwaah is also in the process of creating a support group for male sexual assault survivors, which he hopes will begin meeting very soon, he said.
Contact news writer Susanna Getis at firstname.lastname@example.org. Nick Cantin (email@example.com) contributed to reporting.