February 12, 2020
On a recent Thursday evening, seats began to fill up inside the Biddeford Campus Center’s multi-purpose room for “Smash the Stigma,” an event featuring students and former students opening up about their mental health struggles. The event also included a panel discussion with UNE experts.
“Smash the Stigma” was put on by the student club Active Minds, a local chapter of a national award-winning program designed to de-stigmatize seeking help for mental health issues. The group meets once a week and currently has about 20 members.
“We are all about breaking the stigma around mental health and focusing on suicide awareness, giving students a place to talk about mental health in a healthy way,” explained Melanie DiLorenzo, M.S., assistant lecturer in the Department of Chemistry and Physics and faculty advisor for Active Minds.
Sydney Wolf (Social Work, ’22), is president of Active Minds.
“I've been really passionate about mental health for a while because of some personal experiences and experiences that happened with some of my friends,” she said. “When I sparked the conversation, everybody got on board pretty quickly. We're really lucky that we have a lot of support now.”
Wolf says the pressure on students to succeed is tremendous these days, especially for incoming freshmen.
“You come to college and you kind of have this expectation that you have it all together, that you know what you're going to do with your life,” she stated. “I think it's a lot of pressure, and many of the majors here are really challenging.”
DiLorenzo hopes Active Minds provides the kind of forum students can be comfortable with.
“I think students are more comfortable talking to each other rather than adults or adults with a title,” she said. “They know their peers better than I do.”
DiLorenzo helped Wolf work with UNE officials to make information about mental health resources more readily available to students. Their work paid off. Now, all new or replacement UNE identification cards have phone numbers of mental health services available to students printed on the back of them.
Around the corner from the multi-purpose room, in an office next to the gymnasium, Eryn Neptune, M.S., interim Fitness Center manager and health & wellness educator, meets with students and helps them map out their own wellness pathway through the Waves of Wellness program. Neptune and members of the Division of Student Affairs launched the program in the fall of 2017 as a way to increase students’ prioritization of their health. It involves a holistic wellness assessment partnered with personalized peer coaching and support.
This comprehensive wellness assessment allows students to check in with themselves and figure out what their next step can be to better themselves.
“We set small goals that will eventually make big waves in the future,” Neptune stated.
Feeling stressed and overwhelmed are the most common concerns Neptune hears from students.
She takes individual students and groups through a chart with 17 different aspects of wellness and helps direct them to services and resources that may be helpful for them.
“I say to them, ‘Let’s figure out what aspect of wellness do you want to work on, and then let's find some university resources that can you utilize,’” said Neptune. “‘I don't think I know all the answers, but I know tons of people on campus who could give you the answers that you're looking for.’”
Neptune has been utilizing the program for the past two and a half years on a small scale but was able to publicize it by making a presentation to the entire incoming freshman class during orientation this past June. Her goal is to check back with those students at the end of their first year to see what resources they took advantage of.
“If they can utilize the resources, they might be happier here, and that might make them more successful students,” she commented.
Waves of Wellness was recently honored with the Outstanding Program of the Year for Maine award at the regional conference of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA). NASPA boasts a network of approximately 15,000 professionals and 1,200 institutions worldwide.
Members of Waves of Wellness and Active Minds also work closely with UNE’s Wellness and Prevention Committee. The team coordinates programming, shares ideas and resources, and reviews trends both nationally and on campus.
“Programs like Active Minds and Waves of Wellness are vital partners to us in dispelling the stigma surrounding seeking mental health services,” stated Hahna Patterson, M.A., LCPC, assistant provost for the Division of Student Support.
Members of the committee take a broad view of student wellness and prevention, while exploring additional therapeutic, educational, and peer support services to be offered through our Student Counseling Center.
“UNE’s Student Counseling Center provides comprehensive counseling, assessment, and referral to meet the needs of our undergraduate and graduate students,” said Patterson.
With the number of students seeking counseling services steadily rising nationally, UNE’s professional staff, faculty, administrators, and students are all actively working to promote prevention interventions designed to enhance students’ coping skills.