As part of this week’s final quarterly meeting, the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors discussed what is a hot topic nationally in higher education: student mental health and wellness. Interim Vice President for Student Affairs Frances Keene provided an overview of mental health support structures at Virginia Tech and introduced two new initiatives for students aimed at developing wellness habits and accessing help when they need it.
Nationwide, the need for mental health counseling services on college campuses continues to grow, with the demand at Virginia Tech increasing each year.
While Virginia Tech scores highly on measures of student retention, graduation rates, graduate employment, and diversity and inclusion, the university’s data on student well-being is on par with national numbers.
According to the 2019 Virginia Tech Mental Health Task Force Recommendation Report, students from vulnerable populations, including Black, Hispanic, Asian, LGBTQ+ and financially insecure students, show an increased risk of mental health problems.
Residential Wellness Initiative
Launched this fall, the Residential Wellness initiative brings resources and programs to students’ living and learning environments. With integrated advisors; an emphasis on student-leadership positions that prioritize student well-being, engagement, and success; and ongoing mentoring and support from faculty and staff coaches, the initiative supports the holistic well-being and mental health of Virginia Tech students by bringing helpful resources to their residence halls.
“A culture of well-being must include systemic and organizational changes in students’ living, learning and social environments, in addition to encouraging changes in the habits and behaviors of individuals,” Keene said. “Residential welfare is now everyone’s business in Student Affairs.”
The Residential Wellness Initiative reaches students when there is the greatest opportunity to impact their well-being: the time of their entry into the university community—from orientation to entry.
Virginia Tech boasts the largest full-time residential student population in Virginia. The residential environment is rich in opportunities to influence students’ mental health and well-being. Almost every undergraduate student at Virginia Tech begins their experience in a residence hall, and the habits, patterns, and relationships formed that first year can significantly influence a student’s trajectory of success.
In the residential welfare approach, equity and inclusion are intrinsically linked to well-being, and a focus on the well-being of students from vulnerable populations improves the well-being of the entire community. The Residential Wellness Initiative creates smaller communities of students within the residential environment to foster engagement and belonging. The roles of students and staff have shifted from compliance or enforcement to building, caring and connecting the community.
Virtual assistance through TimelyCare
TimelyCare, a virtual health service that is the latest addition to Virginia Tech’s mental health and wellness resources, is also new this fall. Offered at no cost to students, TimelyCare does not replace, but rather complements the many mental health support structures at Virginia Tech.
Through TimelyCare, students can connect with a counselor for immediate care, scheduled counseling or health coaching. They can access TimelyCare with a phone, computer or tablet and can choose phone or video sessions. Students can register on the TimelyCare app or through the TimelyCare website and are encouraged to do so before they need the services.
TimelyCare supports more than 250 languages and offers translation services. The service is also ADA accessible through the app. Another benefit is that students can use TimelyCare when they are home for vacation or away from campus for internships, regardless of their location in the United States. TalkNow is available internationally with a US-based phone number or VPN.
After the presentation, Keene was joined by Natalie E. Cook, assistant professor of Public Health, Department of Population Health Sciences at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine and faculty director of the Honors Residential Commons. Saad Khan also joined the discussion with the board. Khan graduated in December 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in clinical neuroscience and a minor in psychology and advocated for mental health resources through the Virginia Tech chapter of Active Minds. He is now working with Hokie Wellness as the coordinator of mental health initiatives.
The panel led a discussion about the most critical issues to address regarding mental health and wellness in the Virginia Tech community. They also talked about loneliness, noting that 52 percent of Virginia Tech students report feelings related to loneliness, as measured by the UCLA Loneliness Scale.
Cook emphasized a holistic approach to helping students thrive. “I see my role as providing the leadership and scaffolding necessary to foster a vibrant and learning community where all members feel a sense of belonging, agency and connection, regardless of their field, background, identity or birthplace. them,” she said.