Depression on College Campuses Conference highlights students' mental health needs

Wednesday, March 13, 2019 - 7:39pm

Poster presenter Miriam Connolly speaks to conference attendees on campus well-being as part of the Depression on College Campuses Conference in Rackham Wednesday.

Poster presenter Miriam Connolly speaks to conference attendees on campus well-being as part of the Depression on College Campuses Conference in Rackham Wednesday. Buy this photo
Kartik Sundaram/Daily

More than 450 people gathered for the 17th annual Depression on College Campuses Conference on Wednesday afternoon in Rackham Auditorium. The two-day conference, titled “One Size Does Not Fit All: Aligning Levels of Care to Student Mental Health Needs," aims to shed light on depression on campus, focusing on the best methods to provide support to all students with unique and varying needs. Hosted by Michigan Medicine’s Depression Center, the event consists of a series of workshops, guest speaker discussions and presentations to address various issues on the mental health spectrum.

Business senior Stefan Santrach and LSA senior Jordan Lazarus, the directors of student-led support organization Wolverine Support Network, and Lukas Henke, staff psychologist and coordinator of peer initiatives at the University of Michigan, hosted a discussion that emphasized empowering support in communities on and off campus. The discussion attracted various people including students, faculty, mental health professionals and researchers.

Lazarus cited organization data from WSN, which found that while freshman, juniors and seniors compose 46.6 percent of its members, sophomores account for 53.3 percent, a group of students Lazarus said reported struggling with emotional well-being more often than others.

“We’re continuing to work to be inclusive to all segments of campus,” Lazarus said. “By far, in terms of saddest at the University, most of the people who are involved are sophomores.”

Support networks like WSN are not limited to the University’s campus. Santrach said WSN works alongside Spartan Support Network at Michigan State University and Bearcat Support Network at the University of Cincinnati to create a model of mental health care that is particular to their own students’ needs.

“Each of these programs are different,” Santrach said. “And while they follow the same model, this is just us sharing our experiences and what we do but it doesn’t necessarily fit everywhere.”

Henke said peer-led support networks may serve as a better fit for some students instead of therapy or other forms of mental health care.

“They also provide services for students for whom CAPS is not the best option, for whom therapy is not a good option, or they don’t want it, or they don’t need it,” Henke said. “For whose social identities or past experiences make peer led interactions much better, much safer, much healthier, much more useful experiences than say therapy with someone like me.”

Attendees discussed the importance of creating a sense of community around your peers in a safe and engaging space to discuss mental health. Novi High School counselor Sarah Lephart discussed the importance of peers guiding and helping each other in order to meet their goals.

“(The goal of support networks is) to have people to come together who can support each other if they’re struggling with some type of mental health issue or some type of other issue.” Lephart said. “It could be anything — it could be academic, it could be mental health, it could be getting involved in things. All those things where they’re working together to help get them where they need to be, wherever that may be.”

Matt Reasor, a junior at Colby College, said in an interview with The Daily after the event, his passions for learning more about mental health and student support on his own campus drew him to the event.

“I kind of knew as soon as I got to my campus I was especially passionate about mental health and making my fellow classmates feel supported and empowered,” Reasor said. “I got involved with this group called Student Health on Campus that’s targeted at providing some active programming and creating constructive conversations for students to have around mental, physical and sexual health. So now, being in it two-and-a-half-years, I got the opportunity to come here and learn more about mental health and better ways to support students.”