As a freshman, Sociology student Naiya Budler came to Western Colorado University to compete with the cross-country team. For as long as she could remember, Budler used running as an escape. Yet, in the second semester of her freshman year at Western, Budler was diagnosed with a string of chronic illnesses that prevented her from continuing her running career.
“After I didn’t have the structure of running every day and looking forward to something every day, I just knew I needed some additional support,” said Budler.
A Healthy Minds Campus
Budler is not alone. According to the Mayo Clinic Health System, 44% of college students report having symptoms of depression and anxiety. And, the study states, that of the students who have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, 75% of them have their first episode before the age of 24.
Western Colorado University is dedicated to combating mental health issues and providing the necessary care to students, faculty, and staff, and is now recognized as a “Healthy Minds Campus” by the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE).
To receive this designation, colleges and universities must implement four core mental health awareness programs as well as six initiatives that focus on specific issues. One requirement is that schools must hold an awareness event each year. Western has several, including “Wellness Fest,” which brings together campus and community organizations to provide resources ranging from mental wellness to budgeting and financial literacy. The university also started the “Western Rising” fundraiser to extend counseling services to students with limited access due to financial barriers.
Three Steps for Mountaineers
Western’s most recent event in the effort towards mental health awareness was the “Dear Mountaineer” campaign. This month-long, three-part event focused on destigmatizing mental health, offering support, and promoting resources.
The first part, entitled “Dear Mountaineer, how do you feel?” was a mirror exhibit that displayed the outline of a person. The students wrote the emotions they felt on the mirrors to show that they are not alone in their mental health struggles.
The second part, called, “Dear Mountaineer, what would you say?” allowed students to write on a small whiteboard what they would say to a struggling friend. Student photos were then taken, paired with their response, and put together in a video to share with students on campus.
Then “Dear Mountaineer, what will you do?” had students pledge to advocate for their own mental health and offer kindness to those who may be struggling. Students signed a banner stating, “Dear Mountaineer, my mental health is important and so is yours.”
Western also implemented the TimelyCare program, where students can access a counselor’s help 24/7 on their phone. TimelyCare reported in the first month 44% of users did so “after hours.”
Additionally, Peer Health Educators have been established to provide mental health resources to its peers.
From Struggle to Success
Yet, from struggle, one can find strength. Budler decided to start seeing the campus counselor. Four years later, she continues to see the same counselor for regular therapy sessions.
Now, she is the president of the Peer Health Educators and helps organize and promote mental health events and programs on campus. Her goal is that Western will have a strong foundation for supporting mental health on campus.
“When I came here four years ago, the conversations around mental health were a lot quieter and a lot less honest,” she said. “I think now, after successfully yelling about these things, we’ve sort of broken that egg open and shown that we as a campus and as a community care about this and that mental health really matters.”
Western Health and Wellness
Discover other ongoing programs and initiatives to support Mountaineers through Western’s Health & Wellness Office.
Author Credit: Kinlee Whitney
Photo Credit: Randall Gee