New Mental Health Initiatives Include Community Voices

Elizabeth Kuhr

This is the second of a two-part series exploring new mental health initiatives that will be offered through the Oberlin Counseling Center.

Since concerns arose last year regarding the effectiveness of mental health services offered on campus, students, faculty, staff and community members have organized to extend mental health services and increase awareness of mental health issues.

The Student Health Advisory Committee, which formed at the end of 2012 and officially met for the first time last Friday, Feb. 15, is at the heart of these initiatives. Based in the Counseling Center and Student Health Services, the SHAC consists of 18 students nominated to sit on the committee.

With advice from other students and staff, SHAC has pooled ideas for new programs, many of which are focused on community-based help. One project is the Peer-to-Peer Outreach and Education Initiative.

“[Students will] have a peer they can talk to,” said College senior Kelsi Hurdle. “For when you don’t want to call a hotline, and you don’t feel like you can go to Safety and Security or the Counseling Center.”

Based on a program started at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 2006, interested students will receive training on how to recognize when a friend is experiencing a mental health crisis and help that person find support.

“We’re bringing psychologists in from [Worcester Polytechnic Institute] to do a training,” said John Harshbarger, director of Oberlin’s Counseling Center and Student Health Services. “On … how to potentially intervene. It’s going to be a student support network.”

This training is projected to begin soon after spring break. Some students, including those in Active Minds, SHAC and Student Senate, suggested emulating the Lorain County Rape Crisis Hotline by making the student support network into a 24-hour phone service.

In addition to the Peer-to-Peer Outreach program, the SHAC is working with Harshbarger to create a Suicide Prevention Coalition, which is scheduled to meet on March 1.

“I want this coalition to be open to anyone who is interested,” said Harshbarger.

The coalition’s current project is to spark conversation regarding mental health issues and concerns within the Oberlin community, and some progress has already been made. As noted in Dean Estes’s announcement e-mail regarding the initiatives, Oberlin community members such as “local therapists, clergy and members of the Lorain County Board of Mental Health” are providing advice and participating in the projects as well.

The staff of the Counseling Center emphasized that, although some programs have begun to form, there is the capacity for more ideas and growth.

“Because it’s a new group, I want the students to have a say in what direction they’re going to head,” said Harshbarger.

Future projects are already in the works. Proposed initiatives include a public meet and greet with the Counseling Center psychologists to advertise their services and Anxiety Awareness Week — scheduled for midterms week — which will give students tips for coping with stress, as well as funding for the Counseling Center to extend its daily hours.

But, as College President Marvin Krislov and others involved in the development of these initiatives have said, the overarching goal is to encourage people to ask for help when needed.

“I hope that these initiatives will encourage students to take advantage of the kind of outreach and educational services we have. And if there are services that we don’t provide, to try to help us understand what those are,” said Krislov. “We do have help, we do have support, and we are continuing to improve.”