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Reynolds discussed the importance of mental health on college campuses. 

Fred Reynolds gave a lecture Thursday evening in Harrison Hall about the mental health crisis, specifically at the college level. The audience was given many examples of this epidemic plus knowledge on how they can better prepare themselves to handle mental health problems in the future.

“I want to urge you to become your own best advocate by learning more about these things yourself,” Reynolds said. “Because as with climate change, health care, gun safety, income inequality, mental health issues are big things that are big for your lives now and are going to be bigger in your adult and professional lives.”

Reynolds said there are many escalating challenges regarding students, professors and administration. A 2019 survey of university vice presidents of student affairs by Higher Education Today named campus mental health issues as the No. 1 challenge and concern by a 5-to-1 margin.

“Learning stuff about this mental health puzzle that we’re all living in the middle of will better prepare you and arm you for this set of issues that you may have to deal with later,” Reynolds said.

He said it’s his hope that creating a conversation around mental health will empower individuals to seek information and share it with their friends, classmates, roommates and anybody willing to listen. Andrea Pesce, a JMU biology professor, attended because she wants to more aware of these issues.

“I deal with a lot of students, and I want to make sure that I’m trying to be vigilant helping people that need a break and know they won’t always make me aware of it,” Pesce, said.  “I don’t want to exacerbate a crisis.”

 Reynolds said he believes JMU is better equipped than most colleges and universities of its size. He said that JMU has more programs in a broader range. Part of the lecture was focused on him explaining all the information he was able to find about JMU and their commitment to mental health just through searching online.

Dave Pruett, a retired professor of mathematics at JMU, said that even though he isn’t in the classroom anymore, it’s important to know how to effectively deal with these issues.

“Mental health issues are skyrocketing, and I know that students are under stressors that I was not under when I grew up,” Pruett said. “I’m trying to understand because without knowing what they are, it’s hard to know how to deal with them.”

One analogy Reynolds gave to the audience was that in order to study abroad successfully, students need to immerse themselves into another culture, and potentially a language, in order to learn about something different from their own experience. Similar to mental health, he said it’s imperative to be informed about what you are talking about to help others and yourself. 

Reynolds expressed his disappointment at universities that have given up on the mental health crisis and outsourced their services and care to other providers. He said he believes that universities should take it upon themselves to care for the mental health of its students.

“The best way for you to be empowered is for you to learn about this stuff and know what you are talking about,” Reynolds said.

Contact Matthew Sasser at sasserma@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.