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Unwrapped: A gift for the Student Counseling Center

Monica Neel

By Natalie Eastwood

Goucher College’s Student Counseling Center sees about 45% of students before they graduate, which is why a recent leadership-level gift to the Counseling Center will have a far-reaching impact on campus. The Goucher Advocates for Emotional Wellness gift is from a donor who would like to remain anonymous, and who said they are passionate about helping students feel supported in their emotional wellness and mental health.

Monica Neel, Psy.D., Counseling Center director, said the gift is threefold, with the largest portion funding a three-year clinical case manager position in the Counseling Center. The center meets the clinical needs of about 85% of the students who walk through the door; those who need more specialized treatment are referred to a local mental health professional, Neel said. The clinical case manager will go beyond current referral services—which includes finding local providers and ensuring students’ insurance covers the care—to minimize any additional barriers between students and their specialized care.

The second part of the gift is going toward priorities based on Goucher’s partnership with the JED Foundation, an organization that evaluates the mental wellness of a school and provides resources to make improvements. In 2017, Goucher elected to conduct JED’s Healthy Minds Survey, which was important, Neel said, as the survey revealed students identify feelings and thoughts of anxiety, depression, suicide, and self-injury at much higher rates than peer institutions. Because of the survey, Goucher added mental health programming, gatekeeper training, and additional messaging for incoming students who self-identify with mental health needs. When Goucher students retake the survey in 2020, Neel said it will be a good indicator of the campus’s progress.

More encouraging from the 2017 survey, however, was Goucher’s score for perceived and personal stigma, which was much lower than peer institutions. The survey also revealed that students often talk with faculty about their mental health. “That’s a good thing, but it also means that we need to ensure those people are trained to have those kinds of conversations with our students and to connect them with the right kind of care,” Neel said.

“As a JED Campus, part of the priority is to ensure that the emotional wellness of students does not just fall upon the counseling center but is really built into the infrastructure of the college as a whole,” Neel said.

Goucher’s awareness of student-faculty bonds has led to two additional services made possible through the donor’s gift. The QPR Institute, which stands for Question, Persuade, and Refer, prepares student-facing staff and faculty to talk about mental illnesses with students, particularly those contemplating suicide, and then get them the resources they need.

An additional resource, EverFi, offers online courses to help students navigate the stressors and emotional challenges associated with college life, practice self-care strategies, recognize when they or their peers are in distress, and take action to find additional support. “We’re really trying to promote a kind of self-advocacy for students and ensure that students have the skillset to seek out the resources they need, whether that be in our office or other offices on campus,” Neel said.

The third and final piece of this gift is the Goucher Advocates for Emotional Wellness Lecture Series, which kicks off with Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness, on April 27 in Kraushaar Auditorium. Lyubomirsky, a research psychologist and professor at UCLA, drew on her research to create a day-by-day plan to increase people’s happiness in the short- and long-term. Neel said they chose Lyubomirsky because her work has been the foundation for the Counseling Center’s annual Happiness Hunt. The Happiness Hunt is an activities-based scavenger hunt that includes writing thank you notes for public safety officers, hula hooping, painting with Bob Ross, stargazing, and so much more.

Lyubomirsky’s lecture will be the first of many conversations about mental health with top people in the field, Neel said. “If we’re finding and prioritizing those types of speakers to come to campus,” Neel said, “it’s showing Goucher has a commitment to the emotional well-being of their students and their community.”

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