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William & Mary receives grant to promote mental health

William & Mary’s Division of Student Affairs has been awarded a significant federal grant aimed at promoting mental health on campus.

The grant is funded through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an operating division of the Department of Health and Human Services, and will provide $235,000 to the College over the next three years.

Mental health issues are a concern on most college campuses today. Data from the 2012 National College Health Assessment indicate that students across the country struggle with stress, anxiety, sleep difficulties and other factors that negatively affect their academic performance and overall well-being. At William & Mary, students report similar issues, at levels that are generally comparable to the national findings.

The SAMHSA grant supports specific activities carefully selected or designed to address major  mental health goals identified by the College, and it furthers the Student Affairs division’s broader vision: “Creating an engaging learning environment in which community is strengthened and individuals flourish.”

Foremost among the goals is increasing the amount of training to students, faculty and staff about suicide prevention and the promotion of psychological, social and emotional well-being. Activities include the use of an avatar-based online training program for faculty and students, and outreach to local mental health providers through network meetings and seminars.

“We want to work with people across the campus as well as with our partners in the community to deliver the message that suicide prevention is a shared responsibility,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Virginia Ambler.  “Every one of us has the power to make a difference in someone else’s life.”

The SAMHSA grant activities also are designed to provide additional outreach to faculty, staff and family members about the risk factors and warning signs of suicide, and how to get help for someone who needs it. A strong emphasis will be placed on reducing the stigma associated with seeking care for mental and behavioral health issues.  Promoting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is one of the grant activities, as well.

“This grant gives William & Mary the opportunity to enhance and expand on current mental health programming at the College,” said Ambler. “It is a truly collaborative project within the Division of Student Affairs, bringing together offices already working to promote mental health and providing a coordinated effort around this important issue.”

While the project’s leadership lies in the Office of the Dean of Students with Senior Assistant Dean and Director of Health Promotion Donna Haygood-Jackson, multiple offices across campus will work together on the project. Those offices include the Counseling Center, Health Promotion, the Center for Student Diversity and Undergraduate Studies. Several student organizations will also be closely involved in the effort, including Health Outreach Peer Educators (HOPE), the W&M chapter of Active Minds and the Student Assembly.

The College’s comprehensive approach to suicide prevention includes all of the dimensions recommended by the Suicide Prevention Center and the JED Foundation, leaders in research and education related to risk reduction among college students.  In addition to identifying students at risk and increasing help-seeking behavior, those recommendations call for providing strong mental health services, developing and following effective crisis management protocols, helping students develop healthy life skills and promoting meaningful social networks.

Ambler expects the funding from the SAMHSA grant will allow the university to expand and strengthen campus initiatives while providing students with a lasting foundation of mental health, personal well-being, and resilience.

“The College is thrilled to be able to enhance programming efforts to help our students flourish, not only while they are students at William & Mary, but for a lifetime.”