ST. LOUIS (KMOV) — Since the start of the school year, junior Hannah Belaska says the environment on SLU’s campus has felt different for her and some of her peers.
“Nobody thinks going to college will be like people crying on their way to class,” Belaska said. “Like every time we get an emergency notification, everyone is like ‘oh, someone died’.”
It’s a dark feeling that began for some in the fall, when the university first announced that two students on campus had died by suicide.
“The first student this happened to was someone I was actually friends with,” freshman Megan Erspamer said. “So that had a really big impact on me.”
Erspamer says her friend’s death impacted her own mental health in the weeks that followed.
At the same time, she and other students wanted to start seeing changes on campus in how students could access mental health resources. A petition quickly circulated asking the university to give students more free counseling sessions beyond the 10 they already receive per school year. They also wanted to add more highly trained counselors to the university’s counseling center and expand counseling hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and be open on weekends.
“It really opened the doors for students on campus to see that this is an issue and that the administration, and everyone needs to talk about it,” Erspamer said.
In the past two weeks, two other students and a resident doctor have died at SLU, according to an email sent to students and staff. One of these students committed suicide on April 5. Another student died a few days earlier, but the cause was not disclosed. The death of a resident doctor during the week also did not provide additional details about the cause.
Students say these losses are heartbreaking to hear, but they aren’t necessarily surprised.
“It’s not shocking as the university still hasn’t done all it can do about it, which could be one of the reasons why it keeps happening,” said Spam.
SLU isn’t the only university to have suffered incredible losses since classes began. On the University of Washington campus, two students have died since February. One of them was confirmed in a letter to students and teachers as a suicide.
While no university was available for an interview on Friday, an SLU spokesperson shared a statement from the university regarding the recent deaths.
Saint Louis University recognizes that young people around the world are experiencing a mental health crisis and that the pandemic – with its isolation and separation from loved ones – has contributed to a distressing climate of uncertainty, fear and grief . The University makes every effort to support its students and ensure they have the resources they need.
The SLU community has stepped up to provide mental health counseling, spiritual support, and wellness resources to students, faculty, and staff. The University coordinates several response points, including bringing in outside counselors from Behavioral Health Response and Saint Louis Counseling to provide students and employees with walk-in support as needed. The University has also opened on-campus hospitality spaces staffed by SLU employees that provide students with a place to study and be in the community.
Still, students like Belaska said they feel like they haven’t seen much change.
“I think they should start investing their finances in more important things like the mental health of their students,” she said. “Allow mental health days for students, not only for school but also for sports.”
There is also the feeling that resources must be offered on a daily basis. Students would also like to see the university work with its faculty on ways to address the loss of students in class and to be more lenient towards students who want to take time off without risking their grades.
“Because for a lot of our classes, attendance is part of our grade, so kids would have their grades tied up not to go because their friend had just died,” Belaska said.
The university says it has or has in place the following resources and services to address mental health across the university:
- Additional staff have been added to the University Counseling Center, increasing the availability of walk-in crisis support and extending evening hours. (All students are entitled to at least 10 free counseling sessions per academic year.)
- Six new student support groups were created at the start of the spring semester, along with various other programs to address mental health needs.
- Mental health workshops were also offered to various university programs and student-run organizations.
- Several student welfare days have been incorporated into the University’s academic calendar. The Counseling Center provided groups on anxiety, depression and trauma on student wellness days.
- A Student Wellbeing Task Force was established last fall, comprised of students, faculty, and staff from across the University and from diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise. A draft set of recommendations has been shared with the university community, after months of soliciting feedback from campus.
A number of other resources are listed on the SLU website.
Starting next week, Wash U will launch Rapid Access Counseling. More information on appointments can be found here. Additional resources are available on the university’s website.
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