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 from her.
“No one thinks when they go to college that it’s going to be like people crying on their way to class,” said Belaska. “Like every time we get a notification for an emergency, everyone is like, ‘oh did someone die’.”
It is a somber feeling that started for some back in the fall, when the university first announced two students on campus died by suicide.
“The first student that this actually occurred to was someone I was actually friends with,” said freshman Megan Erspamer. “So, that had a very big impact on me.”
Erspamer says her friend’s death took a toll on her own mental health in the weeks that followed.
At the same time, she and other students wanted to start seeing changes on campus to the way students could access mental health resources. A petition quickly circulated, calling on the university to give students more free counseling sessions beyond the 10 they already get per school year. They also wanted to add more highly trained counselors to the university’s Counseling Center and extend counseling hours from 8 am to 8 pm and be open on the weekends.
“It really opened up the doors for students on campus to see that this is a problem and that administration, and everyone needs to be talking about this,” said Erspamer.
In the last two weeks two more students and a resident physician have died at SLU, according to an email sent to students and staff. One of those students died by suicide on April 5. Another student died days prior, but a cause was not disclosed. The death of a resident physician over the week did not have additional details on the cause either.
Students say these losses are heartbreaking to hear, but they are not necessarily surprised.
“It’s not shocking in the way that the university still hasn’t done everything that they can do for it, which might be one of the reasons why it keeps happening,” said Erspamer.
SLU is not the only university that has faced incredible loss since classes started. On Washington University’s campus, two students have died since February. One of those was confirmed in a letter to students and faculty as a suicide.
While neither university was available to provide an interview on Friday, a SLU spokesperson shared a statement from the university regarding the recent deaths.
Saint Louis University recognizes that young people everywhere 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 sorrow. The University is doing everything it can to support its students and to ensure they have the resources they need.
The SLU community has rallied together to provide mental health counseling, spiritual support and well-being resources to students, faculty and staff. The University is coordinating multiple points of response that include bringing in external counselors from Behavioral Health Response and Saint Louis Counseling for students and employees to have walk-in support as needed. The University also opened drop-in spaces on campus staffed by SLU employees that offer students a place to study and be in community.
Yet, students like Belaska said they feel like they have not seen much of a change.
“I think that they should start putting their finances in more important things like their student’s mental health,” she said. “Allowing mental health days for students, not only for school but for sports stuff too.”
There’s also a feeling that resources need to be offered daily. Students would also like to see the university work with its faculty on ways to address student loss in the classroom and be more lenient to students that want to take time off without risking their grades.
“Because for a lot of our courses, attendance is part of our grade, so kids were getting their grades docked for not going because their friend just died,” said Belaska.
The university does say it has or has implemented the following resources and services to address mental health across the university:
- Additional staffing has been added to the University Counseling Center, which has increased the availability of crisis walk-in support and extended evening hours. (All students are entitled to at least 10 free counseling sessions per academic year.)
- Six new student support groups were established early in the spring semester, along with other various programming to address mental health needs.
- Mental health workshops have also been offered to various academic programs and student-led organizations.
- Multiple student well-being days have been built into the University’s academic calendar. The Counseling Center has provided groups on anxiety, depression and trauma during the student well-being days.
- A Student Well-being Task Force was established last fall comprised of students, faculty and staff from across the University and from a variety of backgrounds and areas of expertise. A draft set of recommendations has been shared with the University community, following months of soliciting input from the campus.
A number of other resources are listed on SLU‘s website.
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