‘It’s going to be life-changing’; first-of-its-kind statewide program addresses mental health needs for college students

Piedmont Triad News

GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – A new statewide Mental Health First Aid Initiative is set up to address the growing mental health needs among college students.

“I’ve felt just kind of wonky and out of my routine that I would normally do to keep me mentally healthy and well,” said Taylor White, a senior at UNC Greensboro and Mental Health First Aid trainer.  

White said this new initiative is critical as students face COVID-19 related changes on top of class pressures this fall.

“There is that uncertainty of when will this ever end and I think that has given a lot of stress and pressure,” she said. “It feels like I’m sort of trapped sometimes in that and that’s been hard emotionally and mentally.”

White told FOX8 she has faced stress and pressure since transferring to the university during the middle of the pandemic. She’s spent most of her time in online classes feeling disconnected from her professors and peers. 

“With a lot of things being online or a lot of things being optional I have struggled to maintain a schedule that felt accountable and reliable,” White said. 

Four people are trained in Mental Health First Aid at UNCG, two students including White, a police officer and the Spartan Recovery Program Coordinator, Chesley Kennedy.

“I think a lot of students are frustrated,” Kennedy said. “I think they’re tired of having to wear masks or tired of hearing about vaccinations, they just want to go to school and have a good time.” 

Kennedy works with students to understand and resolve their challenges. What he says some students are feeling is alarming. “Depression and anxiety and just sort of that general feeling of unease,” he said. 

The Mental Health First Aid training gives students and staff the tools to spot someone with a mental health challenge or substance use problem and an opportunity to share life-saving resources. 

“How to approach someone for whom they have concern and to be able to talk to them about what’s going on, ask questions, and just be a listening ear to someone who’s going through a distressing time,” Kennedy said. “For us to teach them it’s okay to do that, it’s going to be life-changing for a lot of students here.” 

Kennedy told FOX8 this first-of-its-kind program is not designed to treat or diagnose a mental health challenge but to connect students in need with professional or self-care. 

White is one of those students trained and ready to help her classmates when the first day of class starts on August 17th. 

“For me, it was another tool to support and provide help for those who might need it,” White said.

There will be 12 classes taught by the four trainers throughout the academic year. Students or staff who are certified can use the skills anywhere in the community.

“It actually makes them feel more connected to someone else,” Kennedy said. “It takes the sting of whatever’s going on away and it gives them the opportunity to open up.”

North Carolina’s goal is to have 10,000 people certified in Mental Health First Aid across the UNC System, NC Community College System and independent colleges by the end of the academic year. 

The program is paid for by the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund. 

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