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UGBC Unveils Mental Health Initiatives

Throughout this semester, the Undergraduate Government of Boston College has been working on a series of new initiatives aimed at expanding access to mental health resources on campus. Members of UGBC’s executive and legislative branches have also worked to market existing resources to the student body.

“We’re always looking for ways where we can better support each other as a student body and as a campus community in addressing health,” said Michael Osaghae, UGBC president and MCAS ’20. “And to do that … we’re spearheading various campaigns around mental health and working with campus partners to plan events that will look at mental health through a variety of angles.”

One issue UGBC is currently working to resolve is the limited number of counselors and psychiatrists available to students on campus. University Counseling Services (UCS) currently employs 14 available counselors and psychiatrists. Students are often forced to wait a week or two after making an appointment to talk to a counselor, Osaghae said.

“In the conversations we’ve had, the administration has been very receptive, especially with regards to mental health,” Osaghae said. “I think that we all need to do a better job of being proactive in the campaigns and programs we offer, but also [make] sure that folks on campus engage with the resources that we currently have.” 

Osaghae noted that students sometimes seek counseling off campus because of the limited number of counselors and psychiatrists available. UGBC is working to provide subsidized transportation for off-campus mental health services, he said.

“These are structural challenges across higher education. … We all need to do more to support each other as a campus community,” Osaghae said. 

Two UGBC senators, Ashley Stauber, MCAS ’20, and Quinn O’Connor, MCAS ’21, have also resolved to push conversations about mental health to the front of campus consciousness.

“Mental health sometimes gets put on the back burner, not just at BC but at universities around the world,” Stauber said. “Everyone’s mental health is different, and it is important for students to know that they have the resources to reach out to.”

One of the resources they highlighted is Lean on Me, a national peer-to-peer texting hotline that launched at BC last year. Students can text the number and are anonymously placed in contact with a trained BC student who can provide support.

The senators also emphasized that the push for more mental health resources isn’t a sign that the administration isn’t pursuing solutions on its own as well.

“A big misperception is that BC only has 14 on-campus counselors, [meaning] they’re not trying to help, but I think that is unfair,” Stauber said. 

She emphasized that UGBC needs to take a collaborative stance in working with the administration to fortify the campus’s mental health resources. 

“A main goal that I have is really kicking off those conversations with [UCS Director Craig Burns] so that we can support him and find out what he thinks will be most helpful,” she said. 

O’Connor and Stauber said they recognize that mental health issues are not unique to BC. Campuses all across the country are experiencing an increase in demand for mental health services and do not have the resources equipped to accommodate their students’ needs, they said.

“I think every university across America is having the same issues of just not having enough resources,” said O’Connor. “There’s a mental health crisis in this country where people our age are needing a lot of support, and there’s a lot of mental health issues, [and] the universities are just swamped. I think BC could be doing a lot more, but every university is hurting.”

One of the initiatives in the works for next semester is a UGBC-sponsored mental health panel composed of various speakers who would discuss the importance of open conversation about mental health on college campuses.

These initiatives are part of UGBC’s effort to address the deaths of several students that have occurred over the past year. O’Connor said many students feel that the University hasn’t given them the resources to deal with these losses. 

“I think we could do more organizing to get student voices heard about how dire it is that we need this,” O’Connor said. 

Osaghae emphasized that students should do their part to support each other and make mental health a more prominent topic of discussion. 

“I think it’s our job as students, as folks caring for the whole person, to try and drive better avenues for folks to engage with mental health in a real and critical fashion,” Osaghae said. “And I think we have to do a better job as a campus community to make sure that this is something that is addressed constantly.”

Featured Image By Jonathan Yee /Heights Senior Staff

December 3, 2019