Julie Duhigg in her office in Hamilton-Williams Campus Center. (Photo by Paul Vernon)

In December 2019 the Great Lakes Colleges Association held a mental health and wellness summit in Ann Arbor. As part of a nationwide trend, Ohio Wesleyan and other members of the GLCA were seeing a steady and notable increase in requests for counseling support from our students.

During the summit we explored ways to better meet the mental health and wellness needs of our students. We returned to our respective campuses with renewed energy and began enacting changes as the spring semester of 2020 unfolded.

Just three months later, we learned about COVID-19.

Along with the wider global community, OWU rapidly shifted into a protective response to better preserve our health and well-being. Our students returned home, and our faculty worked overtime to provide their courses remotely for the first time.

My counseling staff and I found ways to provide support from a distance, educating ourselves about how to best provide ethical and sound teletherapy.

During this time, our community inevitably managed losses. Along with the untimely loss of loved ones to the virus, students missed significant events in their lives—spring celebrations, sporting events, performances, graduation—all lost in the passing pandemic days.

Moreover, racial reckoning continued in the United States, with both a disproportionate number of Black and other people of color dying from the virus, as well as from problematic policing. Grief and loss on many levels became our collective human experience.

The mental health struggles of our campus community did not disappear, although they became submerged to the unique stress brought on by this global pandemic. While we learned keeping physical distance from one another was essential, we found ways to keep our students’ well-being central.

Over the past academic year and a half, faculty, staff, and students of the OWU community worked with The JED Foundation, a national organization centered on supporting the mental health needs of college students. Through JED, we identified the mental and emotional needs of our students and cultivated working groups to begin addressing areas including peer mentoring, recovery programming, and training our campus members to better respond to mental health concerns we encounter in our community.

In addition to our work with JED, OWU’s Counseling Services continued to provide ongoing therapy support to our students. We also expanded support for students through several initiatives:

  • Collaborating with a master’s level counseling program at Capital University,
  • Working with new interns each of the past two years,
  • Developing a group therapy experience that allows students to continue building connections with one another as we find our way through these pandemic times,
  • And beginning this spring semester, working with The Virtual Care Group, a business that supplements counseling and other healthcare support to our students.

I genuinely hope this pandemic is inching its way to a kind of closure that allows us to turn toward a new kind of labor. Meeting the mental health and wellness of our students is an interdependent endeavor, much like our efforts to combat COVID.

May we honor this fact: We need each other. May we listen deeply and hear our experiences with loss and grief. And may we join in reshaping the health and wellness of our worthy OWU community.

By Julie Duhigg, OWU Director of Counseling Services