Augustana student leaders focus on addressing mental health on campus

As the pandemic rages on, Augustana students are using their leadership positions to place an emphasis on mental health and student well-being. 

Hailey Nold, Caleb Timmerman and Courtney Chrystal, three students passionate about mental health advocacy, all feel a duty to help other students recognize and cope with their mental health. Through their positions in student organizations such as Lost & Found and the Augustana Student Association (ASA), they have found ways to address mental health issues facing Augustana’s campus.

Timmerman, a senior music and religion major, notes the camaraderie between students helps them support one another.

 “Students understand what students are going through I think better than administrators and faculty,” Timmerman said. 

He notes that this doesn’t mean that faculty are out of touch. Rather, students are better able to recognize the needs of their classmates. Through the assessment of these needs, Timmerman, Chrystal and Nold were able to create events and resources for students throughout the school year to equip them to fulfill their mental health needs.

Timmerman found his passion for mental health advocacy through his own experiences after starting college. This passion combined with his position as an ASA senator led him to co-chair the senate’s Student Life and Wellness Task Force over interim. 

Timmerman co-led a team of six other senators focused on improving well-being on campus. Together, the group focused on a series of projects ranging from First Year Finds, an activity to educate first-year students on resources available at Augustana, to surveys for various demographics to see if their mental health needs are being met. 

Timmerman ultimately plans to continue his mental health advocacy through his senior year and beyond as he sees through the task force’s goals. 

“If I have found ways to cope with it [mental health] and better myself, then I really should share that with other people as well,” Timmerman said. 

Chrystal, a sophomore biology and government major, also addressed mental health during the pandemic with the creation of the Resiliency Task Force that met over the summer to address “immediate and long term needs” of student mental health amid the pandemic.

While serving on the Viking Flex Academic Focus Group, Chrystal noticed that while the other members, mainly faculty, were doing a great job addressing classroom logistics, there were no discussions about addressing student mental health. Chrystal decided to take things into her own hands and asked a handful of students and faculty to serve as a “think tank” for addressing student mental health. 

One of the group’s biggest projects was the new mental health statement included in syllabi, which includes information about resources across campus students can turn to when facing issues. Chrystal said the statement makes mental health “a day one conversation” in the classroom.

Nold, a senior psychology and Spanish major, created the student organization Lost & Found during the 2019-2020 school year to address mental health issues on campus. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the organization has shifted its focus to address pandemic-related issues relevant to students, including time management and coping strategies. 

“Everyone almost went from this thriving mode to surviving mode,” Nold said. “We kind of had to strip everything down to the bare basics and ask ourselves ‘what do students need right now?’” 

Lost & Found ultimately found its answer by responding to data from Augustana’s Early Alert & Referral System (EARS) reports, shaping its events to fit student responses. After working with Campus Life to analyze the reports, Lost & Found compiled a list of the top five needs and used these to target its events for the spring semester. According to Nold, those needs included time management, conflict resolution, anxiety, relationships and coping strategies. 

Wendy Mamer, assistant director of admission and Lost & Found advisor, notes that the group is facilitating further campus discussion on mental health by partnering with groups such as the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office. The groups collaborated to host “Mindful Monday,” discussing how mental health can affect systemically non-dominant students in different ways. 

“Lost & Found coming to campus has been a good thing just because it sheds light on informational tools and the resources that we do have on campus,” Mamer said. 

During the spring semester, Lost & Found is hosting a problem-solving workshop, a mental health education session and a TED talk to further address student needs.

 “When you listen to the reports and what students are actually needing […] that can be meaningful,” Nold said.

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