The University Network

VCU Models How Universities Can Strengthen Mental Health Programs

There is no question that mental illness is widespread at colleges and universities.

For many students, stress, anxiety, depression and other mental disorders are impairing their ability to learn.

With this in mind, nearly 200 colleges and universities across the United States have joined JED Campus, an initiative of the JED Foundation geared to improve the emotional wellbeing of students.

Recently, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) signed on as a new member.

Together, VCU and JED Campus are working to develop a multi-year strategic plan to boost campus efforts in limiting substance abuse, preventing suicide, and guaranteeing that students  graduate mentally and emotionally prepared to address life’s challenges.

“We’re looking at anxiety, depression, stress management, mindfulness and our overall campus culture,” Lisa Joyner, the director of The Wellness Resource Center at VCU, said in a statement.

“One of the main focuses for us is alcohol and other drugs,” she continued. “We’re looking at how students get in to see clinicians for anxiety, depression, even eating disorders, and many other areas of mental illness. It’s thinking [about] the larger scope of mental health.”

This initiative comes at an appropriate time, as Gen Zs, many of whom are in college, report having worse mental health than any other generation.

There are many safe ways alleviate stress, anxiety and other mental illnesses, but turning to drugs and/or alcohol is not healthy, especially for a young college student.

This is why developing a sustainable way to limit student substance abuse is such a priority for JED Campus and VCU.

“You will see us expand the collegiate [substance abuse] recovery program this fall,” Joyner said in a statement. “We’ll be looking at the number of meetings we have, access to resources for our students, and we’ll work with Human Resources to look at ways we can engage with faculty and staff who may be able to benefit from various meetings on campus.”

In addition, The Wellness Resource Center has created a peer health education group geared to help create mental health programs and to inform students about the resources available to them on campus.

The university also plans to implement signs with information about the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in its parking garages, according to the release.  

For VCU, being part of a group of nearly 200 member schools is a huge plus. “It gives us a platform to communicate with one another,” Joyner said in a statement.

Currently, VCU is going through an “environmental scan” scheduled for completion this spring. The results will show what’s working, what’s not and what else needs to be done, Joyner explained in a statement.

“We see students coming to campus and they are stressed out or depressed and they are wondering, ‘What resources does VCU have to support me?,’ ” she continued. “I think with us joining JED, we can sit down and say, ‘We know the top mental health issues our students are battling, and here’s how we can address those issues.’ ”