Board learns about mental health support structures, new initiatives for student wellbeing | VTx

As part of its recent quarterly meeting this week, the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors discussed what is a very hot national topic in higher education: student mental health and well-being. Interim Vice President for Student Affairs Frances Keen reviewed the mental health support structures in place at Virginia Tech and introduced two new initiatives for students aimed at developing health habits and accessing help when they need it.

The context

Nationally, the need for mental health counseling services on college campuses continues to grow, with the demand at Virginia Tech increasing each year.

While Virginia Tech scores highly on measures of student retention, graduation rates, graduate employment, and diversity and inclusion, the university’s data on student health is on par with national numbers.

According to the 2019 Virginia Tech Mental Health Task Force Recommendations Report, students from vulnerable groups, including Black, Latino, Asian, LGBTQ+ and financially insecure students, show an increased risk of mental health problems.

The Housing Welfare Initiative

Launched this fall, the Residential Well-being initiative brings resources and programs into students’ living and learning environments. With live, built-in advisors; an emphasis on student leader positions that prioritize student well-being, engagement, and success; and ongoing mentoring and support from faculty and staff coaches, the initiative supports the holistic well-being and mental health of Virginia Tech students by providing helpful resources in their residence halls.

“A culture of well-being must include systemic and organizational changes in students’ living, learning and social environments in addition to promoting changes in the habits and behaviors of individuals,” Keane said. “Housing wellbeing is now everyone’s business in Student Affairs.”

The Residential Well-being initiative reaches students when there are the greatest opportunities to influence their well-being: their time of entry into the university community, from orientation to move-in.

Virginia Tech boasts the largest full-time student population in Virginia. The residential environment is rich in opportunities to influence the mental health and well-being of students. Almost every student at Virginia Tech begins their experience in a residence hall, and the habits, patterns, and relationships formed during the first year can greatly influence the trajectory of a student’s success.

In a well-being housing approach, equity and inclusion are inextricably linked to well-being, and a focus on the well-being of vulnerable students improves the well-being of the entire community. The Residential Well-being initiative creates smaller communities of students within the residential environment to encourage engagement and belonging. The roles of students and staff have shifted from compliance or enforcement to community building, caring and connection.

Virtual assistance through TimelyCare

TimelyCare, a virtual health service that is the latest addition to Virginia Tech’s mental health and wellness resources, is also new this fall. Offered to students free of charge, TimelyCare does not replace, but rather adds to, the many mental health support structures that exist at Virginia Tech.

Through TimelyCare, students can connect with an advisor for immediate care, scheduled counseling or health coaching. They can access TimelyCare by phone, computer or tablet and can choose phone or video sessions. Students can register on the TimelyCare app or through the TimelyCare website and are encouraged to do so before they need the services.

TimelyCare supports more than 250 languages ​​and offers translation services. The service is also ADA accessible through the app. Another benefit is that students can access TimelyCare when they are home for vacation or away from campus for internships, regardless of their location in the United States. TalkNow is available internationally with a US-based phone number or VPN.

The discussion

Following the presentation, Keane was joined by Natalie E. Cook, assistant professor of public health, Department of Population Health Sciences at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine and director of the Honors Residential Commons faculty. Saad Khan also joined the discussion with the board. Khan graduated in December 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in clinical neuroscience and a minor in psychology and advocates for mental health resources through the Virginia Tech chapter of Active Minds. He now works with Hokie Wellness as the Coordinator of Mental Health Initiatives.

The panel led a discussion on the most critical issues to be addressed regarding mental health and wellness in the Virginia Tech community. They also talked about loneliness, citing that 52 percent of students at Virginia Tech reported feelings of loneliness as measured by the UCLA Loneliness Scale.

Cook emphasized a holistic approach to help students thrive. “I see my role as providing the leadership and scaffolding necessary to foster a thriving living and learning community where all members feel a sense of belonging, agency and connection, regardless of their major, background, identity or hometown,” said she.

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