YCP Community Works Together to Support Mental Health Awareness
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and York College of Pennsylvania is making strides to promote wellness across campus.
Imagine the stress college students face as if it were a backpack. The weight of classwork, new relationships, and the quest to land the perfect job sits on their shoulders and they carry it throughout the day.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit two years ago, those students had another backpack to carry. The fear of infection, the worry about relatives falling ill or dying, and the struggle to learn at home became chronic concerns.
“If you put an extra backpack on your back, it adds more weight and more effort to put into things,” says Darrell Wilt, Director of Counseling Services at York College of Pennsylvania. “It takes away a bit more of your energy and happiness, putting pressure on the stresses you already have.”
York College's Counseling Services help students navigate stress, anxiety, depression, and self-esteem issues. Those concerns are addressed in a variety of ways, says Jessi Nocella, Assistant Director of Counseling Services.
Many students come in for one-on-one counseling. Others seek solutions through couples therapy or sessions with roommates or several friends. The Counseling Services Center also hosts a variety of group therapy sessions.
Regardless of the method used, the counselors see their work with students as a chance to make a difference in their lives.
“It’s a privilege for people to allow us to walk along the journey of self-discovery and growth,” Nocella says. “This is a fun time in life. People aren’t cemented in their ways. It’s not too late to make a change and address something they’ve been dealing with.”
Ending the stigma
Generations of students dealt with college-based stress with a head-down, grin-and-bear-it approach. Those who needed counseling often were perceived as weak or mentally imbalanced.
Current college students are forging their own path to break that mindset.
“This generation approaches mental health with a ‘let’s look at this and do something about it’ attitude,” Nocella says. “If you look at our current media and what topics they discuss, the curtains on mental health no longer exist.”
Wilt adds, “When people started hearing their favorite superstars talk about mental health, it changed the stigma. There is no comparison to how comfortable people are coming in now as compared to what it used to be.”
Perceptions of mental health have evolved. Students once believed an issue needed to be addressed only when they reached a breaking point. Now, mental health is viewed like a diet or fitness plan, Wilt says.
“People aren’t like, ‘Oh, only crazy people go to the gym,’” Wilt says. “Normalizing mental health is having a positive view of it. Everyone knows if they exercise, it’s going to be better for them. It’s about committing the time, resources, and effort to make that happen.”
“It’s a lot easier to fix a little thing than to wait for something to break and ruin parts of your life,” Nocella says. “Every time we can talk to students about mental health, it decreases the stigma. We increase the possibility that people are reaching out to improve their wellness.”