WKMS | By Zacharie Lamb
Murray State University police are seeing a significant increase in mental health and welfare checks — 53% more over the last academic year. University officials said the rise in calls is both indicative of a surge in students struggling with their mental health and a sign of raising awareness of the issue.
The statistic was shared by the university’s chief of police Jeff Gentry at a board of regents meeting earlier this month. Officers completed 403 wellness checks in the last academic year, an increase of around 140 more wellness checks than the previous academic year’s total.
In an interview, Gentry said wellness checks are conducted by campus officers after receiving a call reporting that a student may be in an emergency situation. All officers on Murray State’s campus are trained in CIT, or crisis intervention team training.
“Every one of us are trained in it, which is fantastic that we’ve been able to accomplish that goal because that’s a need across our nation,” Gentry said. “So we’re trying to listen, to understand what’s going on and to help them navigate through the issue they’re having.”
Gentry said officers use a variety of tactics when speaking to distressed individuals during a wellness check. While CIT training gives officers the skills and knowledge to be the first step in helping individuals in crisis, Gentry said their ultimate goal is to help the person to get to another layer of help such as counselors.
He believes the rise in wellness checks is due to individuals having more awareness of the importance of good mental health.
“Awareness is what really brings, I think, that out … people want to check on others more often, which is a good thing,” Gentry said.
Angie Trzepacz is a licensed psychologist and director of Murray State University’s Counseling Services. She said the rise in reported wellness checks is representative of the many students on campus struggling with their mental health.
“A lot of it is anxiety and depression. That is, you know, the same issues that students have always been dealing with, but they’ve been really exacerbated by the pandemic,” Trzepacz said.
Trzepacz said the pandemic could have negatively affected students in multiple different ways. She said financial woes, loss of social support networks, and loss of face-to-face interaction could have hurt an individual’s mental health.
Trzepacz also said social media is playing a role in student’s mental health, creating additional social dynamics that can lead to depression.
“Comparing yourself to others, thinking that everybody else is having more fun than you, that you’re missing out on the parties that everybody else is going to” Trzepacz said, “In addition to that, it means that a lot of them have kind of lost their social skills and don’t really know how to talk to people in person.”
Trzepacz added that discussion on topics such as social justice, women’s rights, and racial issues can also cause certain people anxiety, a problem that has only been amplified by social media.
“They see a lot more about it now on social media and are hearing it more often, and so they’re more aware of it,” Trzepacz said “That’s really scary for a lot of people.”
Trzepacz said the best thing for students to do when they begin to feel overwhelmed with stress is to find someone to talk to.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be a counselor. It could be a mom, or a friend, significant other, professor,” she said. “Just somebody where you can talk to them and kind of let them know what’s going on. Because sometimes, even if that other person doesn’t have the answers, just sort of bouncing your story off them can help you.”
Students in need of counseling can visit the counseling center on campus or visit the Counseling Services’ website to learn more.