New task force aims to improve mental health culture on campus

University President Kristina M. Johnson announced the formation of a new task force to improve mental health and well-being on campus. Photo credit: Mackenzie Shanklin | Photo editor

University President Kristina M. Johnson announced in an email Thursday the formation of a new task force to improve mental health and well-being on campus.

The commission is jointly chaired by Melissa Shivers, senior vice president for Student Life, and Bernadette Melnyk, chief wellness officer and dean of the College of Nursing, the email said. Melnyk said the task force aims to focus on further preventing mental health problems and creating a culture that promotes wellbeing in the state of Ohio.

“We will do everything we can for our students, our faculty, our staff and our culture to make it the best and healthiest university in the world,” said Melnyk.

The commission is a follow-up and an extension of the Task Force on Suicide and Mental Health founded in 2018 by former university president Michael V. Drake. It was founded in response to two students who died after falling out of a parking garage within days, Melnyk said.

The 2018 Task Force came up with it Recommendations for improving mental health resources and a wellness app, which the website says was automatically downloaded to students’ iPads.

The new task force is also responding to Surveys in autumn 2020 completed by 3,589 students, faculty, and staff that showed 70 percent of the students surveyed and 37 percent of the staff and faculty were or were burned out by December 2020, Shivers said.

“[President Johnson] really want to focus on the student experience and certainly the health and wellbeing of our students and I think this task force as Dean Melnyk mentioned is certainly the source of all of this, ”said Shivers.

The commission will focus on suicide prevention, increasing student engagement with mental health and wellness resources, education and more, Shivers said.

Both Melnyk and Shivers said the task force will specifically consider the mental health impact of the pandemic.

“It felt like it was a really nice, natural next step to make sure that as we prepare for our fall return, we also think strategically about what some of the effects of COVID could be that we don’t have planned, “said Shiver. “We know that people have lost friends, families, and loved ones, and there will be trauma associated with that.”

Students are represented on the task force, including student government president Jacob Chang and council of graduate students vice president Abby Grief, Shivers said.

“The voice of the students is critical here,” said Shivers. We can all develop strategies and evidence-based practices, but if they don’t meet the needs of the students and they don’t connect with the students, they are, so to speak, free. ”

Melnyk said unlike other university programs, the task force will be less crisis-oriented and instead focus on teaching students evidence-based practices such as resilience, cognitive behavioral skills, and mindfulness.

“I always use the analogy: without an oxygen tank, we wouldn’t send divers into a deep ocean,” said Melnyk. “That’s why we have to look at our students holistically.”

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