Content warning: This article contains mentions of suicide.
This fall, the University will hold well-being days on Sept. 6 and 26 to support student mental health.
These days were previously referred to as wellness days, but the name was changed to well-being days at the request of campus community members for a name more comprehensive in scope, according to UNC Media Relations.
Wellness days were first introduced in the spring of 2020 in order to combat the effects of stressors induced by remote learning and COVID-19 on the student population.
Although they were not originally included in the 2021 academic calendar, well-being days were added back to the academic calendar following a series of suicides on campus.
UNC Clinical Psychology Research Assistant Professor Adam Miller, who studies risk factors for adolescent and young adult suicide and self-injurious behaviors, said that a youth mental health crisis had been growing far before the start of COVID-19, but that the pandemic “shined a spotlight” on the difficulties faced by young people.
“I think that (COVID-19) served as a pretty substantial stressor that made a lot of already existing problems much worse for youth,” Miller said.
UNC Chair of the Department of Psychiatry Samantha Meltzer-Brody said that a mental health crisis is affecting adolescents and college-aged people, including UNC students.
“There is no doubt that there is a mental health crisis going on in youth, it's well documented from Surgeon General's reports, CDC reports, multiple other national and international reports and that’s impacting all youth,” Meltzer-Brody said.
Jonathan Abramowitz, the director of clinical training in the Department of Psychology, added that rises in reports of mental health difficulties can also be explained by other factors.
“I think there's some debate over whether there's an increase in the rise of mental health problems versus is it that we are maybe just recognizing them more, we're more sensitive to them and another possibility is that we've lowered the threshold for people to call kind of normal, everyday stress and anxiety — that's become pathologized,” he said.
Though most COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, students continue to face mental health difficulties and wellness days can have many positive impacts, Meltzer-Brody said.
Abramowitz said it is difficult to assess the impact of wellness days on student mental health because defining terms such as anxiety and stress and measuring their levels is difficult.
Miller noted that well-being days are a great start, but they aren't enough to fix mental health issues in the student body.
“I think there is likely a collective understanding, both from students and from faculty and administration that single days aren't necessarily enough to completely take care of one's mental health,” he said.
Abramowitz said an important thing the University can do to support student mental health is to promote education and awareness.
Meltzer-Brody added that well-being days have an impact by publicly acknowledging the need for people to take time for their self-care and well-being and by encouraging people to get involved in wellbeing-enhancing activities.
These activities can be anything from yoga and practicing mindfulness to formal mental health support, according to Meltzer-Brody.
Mental Health Resources
Aside from well-being days, the University offers a number of resources to promote student mental health.
The University also offers student wellness community-building programs to address mental health and trauma support for specific communities.
For students struggling with alcohol, there are several programs, including the Carolina Recovery Program, which supports students and hosts sober social and recreational events.
Sexual Health and Relationship Education, known as SHARE, increases awareness about sexual health on campus.
Additionally, several programs specifically address the needs of BIPOC undergraduate and graduate students including Sister Talk, PEACE and REAL talk.
Students also have access to the recently launched 988 suicide hotline, which is designed to be more memorable and easier to dial.
Miller said that any students who are concerned about a friend or classmate should reach out to CAPS or dial 988.
Meltzer-Brody also noted that students should take advantage of campus mental health resources and be intentional about learning what solutions are helpful to them.
“We know people are struggling, and we want them to reach out early,” she said. “We want people to access this amazing array of resources.”
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