I am concerned about the level of stress and about mental health issues that affect our campus. We have many services available to students and also to faculty and staff members, but I want to be sure that everyone on campus knows what is available and how to access the help they may need. And I want to stress how important it is that we take better care of ourselves and also look out for each other as members of a campus community.
Mental health issues, including but not limited to the prevention of suicides, are receiving increased attention on college campuses — especially those like Cornell where many students report high levels of stress. Cornell has already established an extensive support network of mental health professionals and specially trained faculty, staff and students, but there is a growing recognition that we need to do more to watch out for each other and to support each other when cognitive and emotional challenges arise. This responsibility includes the entire Cornell community: faculty, students and staff.
There is debate regarding claims that mental health problems among college students are on the rise, but there is no question that the demand for mental health services has risen dramatically. The rate of referrals and self-referrals for mental health services at Cornell has risen briskly, with mental health visits to Gannett Health Services increasing 128 percent over the past eleven years. Such increases are due partly to advances in the treatment of mental illness in childhood and adolescence, which enable more individuals to function successfully, with appropriate support. Partly they are due to the decreasing stigma that our society attaches to mental illness.
Gannett Health Services has doubled its counseling staff over the last decade. In addition, the academic advising offices have become the first points of contact for many students in distress and also for faculty members who become aware of students in need of help. We also have a Dean of Students-based Alert Team for early intervention plus crisis managers and community support teams to provide organizational support for students in need.
Cornell’s Council on Mental Health and Welfare, which includes faculty, staff and students, guides our efforts to address mental health at the university, and we are continually evaluating our policies and practices to build a stronger safety net for students and provide a supportive environment. Our efforts have earned us recognition from the Jed Foundation as a leading campus in the area of student mental health.
We are part of a multi-campus project developing and evaluating best practices in mental health promotion and suicide prevention. Our staff and faculty are also conducting research to learn more about the sources of stress among our students and how their experiences compare with those from other colleges and universities.
We know, for example, that the rate of suicide among Cornell students is consistent with campuses nationwide. Of course, whatever the overall statistics, even one suicide on our campus is too many, and the steady rate of such problems requires our attention and action.
Gannett’s Counseling and Psychological Services offers extensive counseling services to students at the health center and at nine other locations around campus, as well as on-line depression screening and other resources and services. We’re also building a network of staff, faculty and students trained to recognize students in distress and reach out to them and who are also available to educate their colleagues about signs of distress and where they can steer students for help.
For Cornell faculty and staff and their dependents, the Employee Assistance Program offers free, confidential, professional counseling and consultation services by telephone or in person. EAP can help address personal and workplace difficulties ranging from stress-related emotional issues, to domestic violence, to interpersonal difficulties and financial concerns. I urge faculty and staff members to utilize its services when a problem is affecting their well-being, daily life or job performance.
We also need to preserve and enhance the physical environment of the campus so that people can find opportunities to reduce the stress in their lives, whether by taking a walk or a run through the Cornell Plantations, exercising at a fitness center, spending time in a practice room playing a musical instrument or curling up in a comfortable chair in the library. We must ensure that Cornell continues to provide a beautiful, nurturing environment that promotes good mental and physical health. And given such an environment, we need to discipline ourselves to slow down occasionally and take care of our own needs.
We have enormous leadership by professionals on our campus regarding mental health issues. However, we need to do more to support those of us who are struggling with mental health issues, but who have not yet received help. And we need to remember, as individuals, our role in identifying colleagues and friends under unusual stress.
• All of us must acknowledge our interdependence and share responsibility for our own and others’ health and well-being. The importance of such recognition and of an offer of help cannot be overemphasized. It is a sign of strength, not weakness.
• When we are aware of someone who is in distress, we demonstrate compassion when we extend ourselves to that person, rather than ignoring the need.
• And when we care for ourselves and allow others to help us when we are in trouble, we ease our own burdens and enable each other to express compassion.
Please join me in addressing the challenges of stress and good mental health at Cornell in a positive and supportive way.
David J. Skorton is the President of Cornell University. He can be reached at email@example.com. From David will appear every month.