Article Written by Zachary Stambaugh.
The COVID-19 pandemic greatly impacted the mental health of many people, and students are no exception. At St. Cloud State, students endured a challenging past few years, as the pandemic put a halt to their traditional college experience. This ultimately resulted in stress, isolation, and certainty affected their well-being.
However, the university took many steps to show support for students during these troubling times, as it implemented a wide variety of resources and took initiatives aimed at addressing the mental health impacts that come as a result of the pandemic.
One of the many resources that St. Cloud State offers is “Project Connect,” a peer-led program designed to enable students to know other students outside of their social group and build connection and community through six, small-group sessions which can range from sharing a meal together at a local restaurant or engaging in an activity on campus or in the community. It gives students who faced challenges and difficulties during the pandemic an outlet to express themselves by allowing them to become immersed in a social environment.
“Huskies Connect” is another essential tool on the university website that allows students to get involved with their peers by giving them the opportunity to attend events on campus, join organizations, and participate in group discussions.
Another program offered by the university is “Pets Thursday,” where students de-stress with therapy animals. “Walking Wednesdays” encourages students to get outside and go for a walk together. Not only does this program promote physical health, but it also gives students a chance to connect with each other and the environment around them.
“I love the fact that SCSU offers resources that promote the mental well-being of students,” said Ben Helin, St. Cloud State student. “It shows how serious the university takes these issues, as well as how much it cares about its students.”
In addition to these resources, St. Cloud State incorporated classroom belonging strategies aimed at getting students engaged in their classes, as well as creating a sense of community among them and their peers. The “hey, you okay?” initiative is focused on encouraging students and staff to regularly check in with each other and provide support when needed by doing five steps—asking “hey, you okay?”, being there, lending a hand, keeping in touch, and being real.
Dr. Feng-Ling Johnson, Dean of University College and Associate Vice President for Student Success at St. Cloud State, commented, “Academic pressure, social isolation, financial stress, lack of sleep, and substance abuse are among the factors contributed to high rates of mental health issues among college students, and the pandemic has certainly made the mental health issues worse. To support students’ wellbeing and to meet students’ basic food, safety and psychological needs, St. Cloud State University offers resources and programs through Center for Health and Wellness Innovation (e.g., counseling center, and Healthy Huskies program), Campus Engagement, Food Pantry, Emergency Fund, resource and identity centers, peer-support-group program such as Project Connect, and intentional strategies on students’ sense of belonging in and outside of the classroom.”
Dr. Johnson stressed that students should not hesitate to reach out if they feel that they need help.
“It is important to remember that seeking help for mental health issues is a sign of strength, not weakness,” she said. “It is a common experience, and many have been able to maintain wellbeing through help and support.”
The pandemic and its impact on the mental health of students is a complicated and ongoing issue, one of which St. Cloud State has worked hard to address. Through a variety of resources and initiatives, the university provides students with the necessary support needed to help them navigate these difficult times.