Just over a month since JMU’s Counseling Center began limiting access to one-on-one therapy, faculty members received an email from Vice President for Student Affairs Tim Miller addressing the “record number” of students who have come forward with mental health concerns in “the last week or so.”
“I got some information from folks about ‘Hey it seems like we’re seeing a lot of different, like higher, numbers than we would expect right now, and a higher level of concern,’” Miller said. “That's when we sort of jumped in and said, ‘Here, let's do something, let’s make sure everyone's aware and try to mobilize the community.’”
Miller said the increase of distressed students at this point in the semester is abnormal because there’s usually a spike in mental health concerns around October due to midterms. Miller’s email also said that JMU has received the most reported self-harm attempts in the past week.
When asked about the number of students who have been affected, Miller said the numbers weren’t available but stated that there’s been an increase in students coming forward all semester. He also said the language used in the email was deliberate to ensure the attention of JMU faculty and staff.
“It’s not actually a quote-on-quote record,” Miller said. “It was honestly just the way I said it to get people to pay attention.”
Before sending the email, Miller addressed the issue within several branches of Student Affairs like the Counseling Center and the Dean of Students’ office. Miller stressed that if one student feels this way, it’s too many.
“To me, I have a concern for our students’ well-being, and I know, without sounding rude about it, we often know a lot about what’s going on with students and others don’t, so I wanted to make sure everyone knew my level of concern,” Miller said.
In response to the information he received, Miller also sent an email to JMU students with the subject line “You Got This!” Miller’s email listed several resources on campus such as UPB events and puppy appearances to help destress students. Alongside Miller, JMU Spokesman Bill Wyatt said the JMU community must keep a close eye on common stressors.
“Mental health is always a concern for the university,” Wyatt said. “I know that we have added counselors in years past, and I’m certain that will be a consideration as we move forward.”
In Miller’s email to faculty, he stated that he’s “incredibly concerned” about students and urged colleagues to keep an eye out for any signs of distress, such as changes in appearance, lack of concentration or abnormally low attendance rates. Miller also stressed the importance of taking students seriously when they come forward about their challenges.
Beyond acknowledging the signs, Miller encourages faculty and staff to walk students to the Counseling Center and to submit a Madison Cares Referral. Madison Cares is an outlet for all branches of JMU, including parents and community members, to refer to when concerned about students’ well-being.
“We really need everybody to connect with their students and look after each other,” Miller said.
After speaking with Miller, Speaker of JMU’s Faculty Senate Mark Piper sent an email to all faculty echoing Miller and insisted that anything odd should be concerning.
“We can’t always know what is going on, but we are in a strong position to help students in need,” Piper said in the email.
In just under two decades, Counseling Center Director David Onestak said the Center has seen a 192% increase in clients. Acknowledging the limits the center has, Miller emphasized that everyone has the “ability to relate to somebody.”
“Not everybody needs to sit in a room with a counselor,” Miller said. “Sometimes, they just need someone to sit in a room and listen to them, and they don’t have additional counselors to do that, so I’m trying to help people understand that one of the values they have is just being able to relate to people on a human level when they are having a hard time.”
Contact Katelyn Waltemyer at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.