Young Harris College shines a light on student mental health
By Drew L. Van Horn, Ph.D., President of Young Harris College
Season’s greetings from Young Harris College! As the president of YHC, I want to take a moment to highlight one of our institution’s key focus areas this past year: improving student mental health.
Due to the pandemic, students on many campuses are experiencing an increase in mental health challenges as we all navigate how best to move forward in uncertain times. YHC is innovating our approach – both expanding traditional counseling services and implementing creative initiatives that help students experience joy.
Earlier this year, YHC partnered with the Virtual Care Group to expand our students’ access to counseling services, including extended hours, appointments available seven days a week, and access to a network of counselors who are as diverse as our student body. Whether our students choose virtual counseling or our on-campus counselor, there is not an additional fee for counseling services.
Additionally, YHC’s Behavioral Intervention Team (BIT) focuses on proactively addressing issues before they become crises. BIT is a non-emergency responding body. Members of the YHC community – including students, faculty, staff, and parents – are encouraged to report incidents involving students who are exhibiting concerning behavior or signs of distress. BIT then conducts an investigation and determines the best mechanisms for support, intervention, and response.
There are many creative ways we’re focused on bringing joy to the YHC campus. One popular example is our Doggie De-stress events, where we invite faculty and staff members to bring their pets to campus to calm our students near exam time. Our Student Development team has also implemented Mental Health Mondays. Each Monday, the team offers a pop-up program that encourages students to take their focus off of themselves and the issues that weigh them down. Often, this means taking part in a project that puts the focus on providing joy and gratitude to others.
One week, students took old keys that were repurposed into “Giving Keys.” Each key had a tag with an encouraging word like “peace,” “hope,” and “confidence.” The students took a key that resonated with them and were prompted to pass it on to a friend who needed an uplifting word. Another week, students wrote thank you cards to those who keep our campus running, including the groundskeepers and housekeepers. Students’ spirits were lifted by lifting the spirits of others.
These are just a few examples of how YHC is educating our students holistically – not just in academics, but also in mind, body, and spirit. The Wesleyan tradition calls for a trained mind and a warm heart, and our increased focus on mental health sits at the intersection of both.