Addressing issues associated with mental health services and evaluating the future needs of the campus community was the subject of a report recently released by the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, in partnership with the Student Affairs.

The report highlights the work of the Mental Health Task Force charged by Executive Vice President and Provost Cyril Clarke with identifying factors affecting student mental health that include the social, cultural, and biological impacts that can influence the development and treatment of mental health issues. The task force, led by Chris Wise, assistant vice president for Student Affairs, was also asked to identify issues associated with mental health services currently available on the campus, anticipate how the university may address existing needs, and proactively plan for future support of mental health programs for the institution.

“The demand for resources on campus is growing and it is important for us to study how to best plan future resources,” said Wise. “It is also important to review both our university data and the available national data to better understand the increases we are seeing in our counseling center visits and how that compared nationally.”

With membership that included Virginia Tech students, faculty, counseling staff, and experts in psychiatry, psychology, epidemiology, and neurosciences, the Mental Health Task Force confirmed in its report that Virginia Tech currently has an appropriate and effective system for addressing mental health issues among students. At the same time, the task force found that there are ample opportunities for enhancing existing processes and to develop new programs and services to support the emotional and overall well-being of the campus community.

“As leaders of our academic enterprise and in support of our students, I believe that we need to be public and active in our commitment to addressing mental health issues of our students that can stem from any number of stressors such as financial challenges, social anxieties, or family problems,” said Clarke. “We should use the report from the Mental Health Task Force to communicate the services and systems we currently have and the opportunities we can develop and deliver to support the holistic well-being of our campus community.”

“I have been most encouraged by the integrated and connected systems, processes and leaders we have at Virginia Tech that care for, tend to and keep students safe,” said Patty Perillo, vice president for Student Affairs. “I am also encouraged by the fact that we leveraged campus experts who are national leaders in their fields of epidemiology, psychiatry, neuroscience, developmental psychology, counseling psychology, students and more to help us determine a better way forward.”

Perillo said she, Clarke, and Virginia Tech President Tim Sands have had many conversations about the mental health of students over the years and it was these conversations that ultimately led to the commissioning of the task force.

“It is a national issue and that causes me much concern,” Perillo said. “My vice president colleagues all over the country are considering how to best respond to the increased demand for support and services.”

Through its research and analysis, the Mental Health Task Force presented recommendations that included ensuring availability of accurate information and data on mental health issues, providing training and education, and developing systems for coordinating resources and outreach efforts on campus. The task force also encouraged collaborative research on mental health challenges and impacts, and engagement in ongoing efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of Virginia Tech’s own practices.

Wise said the Virginia Tech community, as a whole, continues to play a large role in supporting students with mental health concerns.

“The task force has offered recommendations, that we believe, will allow Virginia Tech to provide greater awareness and support for mental health services as well as connect prevention and educational efforts across the entire Virginia Tech community," Wise said.

“The implementation of these recommendations does not reside only in Cook Counseling, but rather provides opportunities for campus wide participation in reducing the stigma of mental health on campus by providing opportunities for faculty, staff, and students to be a part of the mental health programs of the future.”

Perillo believes cultivating emotional well-being means that one needs to invest in it.

“I always say that if you want to be good at a sport or playing an instrument, you must practice," Perillo said. "The same is true for our emotional well-being – you must commit to developing important emotional capacities. Our emotional selves are deeply integrated with our physical, cognitive, spiritual, and relational selves – an investment in one supports all others.”

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