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Integrative wellness efforts at W&M advance

While plans to build an Integrative Wellness Center at William & Mary move forward this semester, several new and continuing efforts are underway to support students in strengthening and maintaining their mental health and overall wellbeing.

The new initiatives include after-hours counseling assistance, therapist-guided access to an online learning platform and partnerships with the Park Rx project and Jed and Clinton Health Matters Campus Program.

“Our goal is to do everything in our power to empower those who need assistance to reach out,” said Kelly Crace, associate vice president for health and wellness, “and for us to provide support and build a community where we are all looking out for each other, a community that is more about wellbeing than only excellence – both can go hand-in-hand.”

Continuing and new initiatives

One new offering this semester that is already seeing a high level of usage is ProtoCall, said Crace. The service connects students who call the Counseling Center outside of its normal operating hours to counselors who are specifically trained on the William & Mary campus and culture. The service isn’t a crisis hotline, said Crace, adding that students may call for any reason, from wanting to know the hours of the center to wanting to talk to someone about devastating news.

“If it rises to a level of crisis, the counselor goes into crisis-intervention mode, does an assessment and determines whether or not to bring in one of our counselors on call,” Crace said. “No matter what happens, the next day, the Counseling Center gets a report of all the calls they got so that they know what the calls were, what the advice was, what the recommendations were.”

Another new option available to students through the Counseling Center this semester is Therapist Assist Online (TAO), an online platform which was piloted at the University of Florida with great results, said Crace. William & Mary was selected as one of a handful of universities to use TAO as part of its Beta stage. The program uses a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) approach, and students who use it go online to take a number of modules that help them learn strategies to deal with depression and anxiety. Participants also periodically meet with counselors.

“It’s this combination of psychoeducational and very relational approach in a medium and modality that our students are very comfortable with,” said Crace. “So they can go online, touch base with their counselor every two weeks around the work they are doing, and it provides that nice relational component.”

Students at the Counseling Center and Student Health Center may also find themselves receiving an unconventional prescription this semester, thanks to the Park Rx project. An international initiative, the project provides training and tools to healthcare professionals so that they may prescribe time at local parks as part of a patient’s treatment plan. The campus arm of the project is led by the Parks Research Lab at William & Mary under Lecturer in Environmental Science Dorothy Ibes. The staffs of the Counseling Center and Student Health Center are being trained on the program this semester.

Also starting this semester is a new partnership between William & Mary and the Jed and Clinton Health Matters Campus Program. Although the university has been working with principles developed by the Jed Foundation for several years, William & Mary entered into a four-year membership with the health matters program this semester. The program will provide the university with several stages of assessment and collaborative feedback on the institution’s efforts.

Several of W&M’s ongoing mental health initiatives on campus began with the support of the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Campus Suicide Prevention Grant, which William & Mary received in 2012. Although the three-year, $235,000 grant ended this year, the following efforts are continuing:

  • Tribe Rides, which provides free transportation to William & Mary students from campus to off-campus mental health providers;
  • Off-campus provider database, which provides information on off-campus mental health services in Williamsburg and Newport News;
  • “Stop the Stigma, Start the Conversation,” a social media campaign to decrease the stigma around mental health;
  • “Kognito At-Risk: Friends in College” and “Kognito for Faculty/Staff,” online training programs;
  • Student Health Center screenings, a set of questions asked at routine medical exams in order to help identify mental-health concerns;
  • Private practitioner breakfast, an annual opportunity for local mental health providers to learn about W&M’s mental health efforts and build relationships with the university.

The university is also continuing its search for a full-time psychiatrist. Funding for the position was included in this year’s budget.

“We have been actively engaged in a search process for a new psychiatrist since the spring semester, and we are committed to finding the right person to provide psychiatric care services for our students,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler.

Integrative Wellness Center

Also continuing this semester are planning efforts for the construction of an Integrative Wellness Center on campus.

The center will be located behind the Sadler Center, where the lodges (excluding The Daily Grind) currently stand. The building will house the four departments that make up the thematic area of health and wellness in student affairs: the Student Health Center, the Counseling Center, Health Promotion and the wellness components of Campus Recreation. The building will also house a new Center for Mindfulness and Authentic Excellence.

The firm of Einhorn, Yaffee & Prescott was selected as the design team for the project, and, in September, the design intent for the building was approved, said Martha Terrell, assistant to the senior vice president and senior planner for finance and administration.

“The architecture will support the health practices by integrating spaces and features with the natural surroundings,” said Terrell.

The center is expected to offer not only traditional medicines, but complementary modalities such as massage, biofeedback, neurofeedback, mindfulness and yoga, Crace said. Meditation alcoves are expected to be situated throughout the building, as well as features like sensory egg chairs for people on the autism spectrum. Outside, students will be able to enjoy a meditation garden and labyrinth.

“The purpose of it, the goal that we have with the Integrative Wellness Center, is to create active, mature consumers of health-related services and resources so that by the time they graduate, they know what kind of health-related resources they need in order to be well, and they know how to go and find them,” said Crace.

Construction is expected to begin in fall 2016 and be completed by the following summer. In addition to the state support to fund construction, the new Integrative Wellness Center is also a fundraising priority for the university, and William & Mary will, in the near future, announce a significant gift to support the construction project, said Ambler.

“Our vision is for every student at William & Mary to flourish. This new building, located in the heart of campus, will affirm the importance of student wellbeing and serve as an inviting, dynamic resource for healthful living. The center will be an important place for students to not only receive treatment when needed, but also to learn about integrating wellness practices into every aspect of their lives,” said Ambler.

A culture of integrative wellness

Last year, the university mourned the loss of several students to suicide, leading to campus-wide discussions about mental health and the university’s prevention and support efforts. Although it was a difficult year for the William & Mary community, Crace is hopeful that, with the support of the administration, parents, alumni and other members of the university community, William & Mary will continue working to build a resilient, well community.

“We are moving forward with initiatives we’ve always wanted to do and plans we’ve always had and, with that increased support, are able to now realize,” he said.

Those plans are part of a longstanding vision within the Division of Student Affairs to create a culture of integrative wellness, said Crace.

As part of that vision, Crace has spent a lot of time talking with people across the university and found that while the content knowledge about wellness is very high, something gets in the way of people applying that knowledge.

“A part of that is looking at some of the cultural dynamics,” Crace said, adding that, at William & Mary, that culture includes a kind of “stress glorification” and the marginalization of people are who are intentional about healthy habits.

“We have this ‘badge of honor’ around this issue of suffering and stress – this kind of competition of who’s working harder,” he said.

Crace hopes that the new and continuing wellness efforts on campus will help change that aspect of the campus culture.

“The whole point we’re trying to make with integrative wellness is to try to show that wellness and excellence don’t have to be competitive,” Crace said, “that we can create a culture of resilience where wellness and excellence can be synonymous and that they actually help each other and that [students] can obtain a deeper level of excellence.”