As part of its recent quarterly meeting this week, the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors discussed what is a hot topic nationally in higher education: student mental health and well-being. Interim Vice President for Student Affairs Frances Kenney provided an overview of mental health support structures at Virginia Tech, and introduced two new initiatives aimed at developing habits of wellness for students and accessing help when they need it.
Nationwide, the need for mental health counseling services on university campuses continues to grow with demand increasing every year at Virginia Tech.
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 Recommendations Report, students from disadvantaged populations, including Black, Hispanic, Asian, LGBTQ+ and economically disadvantaged students, show an increased risk of mental health problems.
Residential Welfare Initiative
Launched this fall, the Residential Wellness Initiative brings resources and programs to students’ living and learning environments. with live-in, embedded advisors; 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 overall well-being and mental health of Virginia Tech students by bringing helpful resources to their residence halls.
“A culture of health must include systemic and organizational changes in students’ lives, learning, and social environments as well as encourage changes in individuals’ habits and behaviors,” Keane said. “Resident welfare is now everyone’s job in student affairs.”
Residential wellness initiatives reach students when there are the greatest opportunities to impact their well-being: the moment of their entry into the university community—from orientation to move-in.
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 habits, patterns, and relationships can significantly influence a student’s trajectory of success in the first year.
In a residential well-being approach, equity and inclusion are inherently linked to well-being, and focusing on the well-being of students from disadvantaged populations improves the well-being of the entire community. The Residential Wellbeing Initiative fosters engagement and connection to small communities of students within the residential environment. The role of students and staff has shifted from compliance or enforcement to community building, caring, and connection.
Virtual Help with 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 supplements the many mental health support structures at Virginia Tech.
Through TimelyCare, students can connect with a counselor for urgent care, scheduled counseling, or health coaching. They can access TimelyCare with a phone, computer or tablet, and they can choose phone or video sessions. Students can register through the TimelyCare app or the TimelyCare website and are encouraged to do so before they need services.
TimelyCare covers more than 250 languages and offers translation services. The service is also ADA accessible through the app. Another benefit is that students can access TimelyCare when they are away from home or campus for vacation, regardless of their location in the United States. TalkNow is available internationally via a US based phone number or VPN.
Following the presentation, Kenny was joined by Assistant Professor of Public Health, Department of Population Health Sciences at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, and Faculty Principal of the Honors Residential Commons, Natalie E. Joined Cook. 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 advocates for mental health resources through the Virginia Tech chapter of Active Minds. He currently works with Hokie Wellness as the Mental Health Initiative Coordinator.
The panel led a discussion about the most important issues to address regarding mental health and wellness in the Virginia Tech community. They also talked about loneliness, citing 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 thriving living and learning community where all members feel a sense of belonging, agency, and connection, regardless of their major, background, identity, or hometown,” she said.