NC State mental health: Recommendations to help students
Dave Nelson hugs an N.C. State student during the weekly ‘Free Mom’ event at N.C….
Editor’s note: This story contains reporting about suicides, a topic that will be disturbing to some readers. Mental health resources are available at the bottom of the story.
For students at North Carolina State University, this academic year has been punctuated with a steady, devastating pattern of student deaths.
Since September, nine NC State student have died — one in a car accident, two from natural causes, five from suicides and, most recently, one on Thursday evening that authorities called “an accidental death.”
The death toll serves as a frequent reminder to students that mental health remains an urgent issue facing the NC State campus and its community.
As students, staff and faculty grapple with the noticeable loss of life on campus, the community is searching for solutions.
NC State’s Student Mental Health Task Force formed in November after a cluster of student suicides. The task force released an 89-page report Tuesday detailing the current student mental health crisis and short- and long-term recommendations to address it.
According to the report, 48% of students who report having suicidal thoughts are not receiving any counseling or medication intervention for their mental health needs.
“Although we recognize that implementing every recommendation may not be possible, we are confident that we can significantly impact student mental health at NC State,” the executive summary states.
The university did not present a timeline for when recommendations would be implemented, saying the task force expressed an urgency to develop them with details to be ironed out afterward.
The recommendations address all facets of student and academic life with ideas to change the culture of a large state university of over 36,000 students.
Here are some of the significant recommendations that will affect students and their parents as well as faculty.
What changes NC State students may see
NC State first created Wellness Days during the fall 2022 semester after a series of student deaths. Wellness Days are days off from class where students are encouraged to relax, de-stress and focus on their overall well-being. The administration signaled that Wellness Days would become routine once a semester when Chancellor Randy Woodson scheduled another Wellness Day for Feb. 16.
The report confirmed that Wellness Days will be scheduled at least once per semester moving forward.
According to the report, students expressed “mixed support” for Wellness Days. Multiple students told the News & Observer that Wellness Days were an ineffective solution to the mental health crisis because professors still assigned work due on or immediately after a Wellness Day.
“The ‘wellness days’ do not help with the way they are being implemented. Instead of a day of focusing on yourself, most students are just catching up on work. In addition, assignments or tests due around that time are just pushed back to days where other big assignments/tests are scheduled,” said an anonymous undergraduate student in an online survey created by NC State.
As a result of student feedback, the report recommends the university “require that no exams or assignments are due on the wellness day or the day following.”
First-Year Common Core
The report stresses the need to increase a sense of belonging and community among students and ramp up mental health training, prevention and education.
While the report recommends various training programs for staff and faculty, one of the biggest changes students can expect to see is the creation of a first-year common core class. The report does not detail the full curriculum of this proposed course, but states that the intention is to equip students with knowledge on mental health, the resources available at the university and opportunities to develop community.
Similarly to the adjustments to Wellness Days, this course was supported by feedback from an online survey. An unnamed staff member proposed the first-year course as “one approach to ensuring that all students are getting the same information, as well as ensuring they all have the same soft skills and knowledge in this area.”
A major goal of the report is to make NC State a “JED Campus.” Through a collaboration with the Jed Foundation, a non-profit that develops widely used mental health guidelines and mitigation strategies for colleges and high schools, NC State would gain access to a multitude of mental health resources.
One of the most noticeable resources to students would be the implementation of universal mental health screening.
Through an online system provided through the Jed Foundation, all first-year students would be screened for potential suicide and mental health risks as part of freshman orientation.
Self-screening will also be available to all students, not just freshmen.
The report does not specify whether all students will be required to be screened on an annual basis or they would only be screened at the beginning of their four years on campus.
Attendance Policy and Exam Scheduling
In the coming semesters, students may begin to see a change to basic course requirements. While mandatory attendance policies have been a staple of the university system for decades, the report explicitly states that these policies should be reviewed and potentially adjusted.
The report recommends NC State “review and modernize the attendance regulation to clarify attendance expectations with an eye toward balancing structure (to encourage participation that facilitates student learning) and flexibility.”
The current university attendance policy was last updated in 2010, when mental health issues were at significantly lower rates nationwide.
It is unclear if mandatory attendance policies will be abolished university wide or adjusted for certain classes or programs.
What parents of NC State students should know
Adding a Dean of Students
The report recommends creating a dean of student-type role at NC State. Of the 16 public universities in North Carolina, NC State is the only school without a Dean of Students.
“The Dean of Students serves as the connection between students, families, faculty, staff, and administration for a myriad of services: student involvement questions, clarification about policies or procedures, helping students to navigate campus resources, assisting with student crises, or general questions about campus opportunities,” the report says.
This position would operate with the goal of improving student life and well-being, with a focus on student mental health.
The one-stop shop
Although many of the university’s mental health resources are available on the Counseling Center’s website, the report states that the university needs to revamp the website to make it easier to use.
This project is already underway, but the report does not state when the new website will be accessible.
Under the new “one-stop shop,” information on all mental health resources would be available to students through one website.
Even though the report has a separate recommendation on hiring more mental health clinicians, one of the highlights of the report is the “embedded clinician” approach.
This places mental health professionals in spaces that students frequent, with the goal of increased accessibility and student comfort. These counselors report to the Counseling Center, but are stationed across campus, ensuring nearly every student is within steps from a mental health professional.
This program has already been started across the university and is available at NC State in Athletics, College of Veterinary Medicine, Advanced Analytics, Campus Health, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences/College of Sciences, College of Engineering and Wilson College of Textiles/The Graduate School.
These colleges are creating or filling embedded clinician positions, the report says: Poole College of Management, College of Natural Resources, College of Education, and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Mental Health Resources
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with someone, dial 988.
- Crisis Text Line is a texting service for emotional crisis support. To speak with a trained listener, text HOME to 741741. This free, confidential service is available 24/7.