The Castleton University Wellness Center currently has a waiting list of 35 to 40 students seeking counseling.
To Wellness Center Director, Martha Coulter, this is concerning.
“It worries me, and it keeps me up at night,” Coulter said.
So, Coulter said she started looking at what other colleges did to address similar issues and found a program created by Cornell University, which had been successful, and decided to implement it here.
“Let’s Talk!” is a program designed to help students get the support they need outside of the Wellness Center.
It offers students the opportunity to talk one-on-one for 15 to 20 minutes with one of six health advocates who are fellow students, faculty and others who have been trained to listen and help students get through tough times, Coulter said.
Each health advocate offers a schedule of different times and places for students to meet them when in need of a listening ear, Coulter said.
“You don’t have to have an appointment, you can just show up, and it’s free,” Coulter said.
It is informal, she said, to help students feel more comfortable. There are no notes taken or files created, it just offers students a safe space where they can vent confidentially, Coulter said.
“We’re not counselors in the slightest. We have training, but my role isn’t to give them advice or counsel them. It’s kind of to just listen to them and let them know that we’re here for support,” student health advocate Jeff Hazard, said.
One other aspect that “Let’s Talk!” will offer is the opportunity for students to get help finding counselors outside the university if they want. Health advocates will help them make phone calls to counselors in the area to set up appointments if they want because it can be intimidating to make those phone calls, Coulter said.
Becky Eno, a health advocate who is an Academic Support Center Counselor and an English professor, said she agrees students will benefit from this because sometimes they are already going through so much that the thought of making phone calls to a stranger is too much.
“I think that if you’re feeling kind of overwhelmed or anxious, I think that anticipation of frustration of making several calls, I think that does students in,” Eno said.
The health advocates interviewed all expressed one common trait, the desire to help and be there for students.
Hazard described how he wants to help people as a career, particularly sexual assault victims, and it is this desire to help that made him agree to participate when Coulter asked him.
He has struggled with mental illness himself and said that talking to someone in the Wellness Center is what prevented him from dropping out of college during a difficult time.
“I want people to know that there’s people on campus that care about them and are there for them no matter what,” Hazard said.
Kendra Ross, another student health advocate, also said that one of her motivations to join was the desire to help after going through hard times herself.
“Last year I went through a really hard time where I really needed the Wellness Center. They were able to help me pull through that hard time and I kind of want to be the same for someone else,” Ross said.
Health advocate and Assistant Director of Residence Life, Shaun Williams, recalled how hard his first semester at college. What got him through it was his RA coming to talk to him, noticing his struggle and wanting to help him, Williams said.
It made him feel like someone cared and helped him feel more connected to his school, so his hope is that this program will do the same for students here, he said.
“We’re a really good resource because we are just going to sit there and talk about what you want to talk about,” Williams said.
Eno has seen her fair share of student stress. She believes that emotional health and academic performance are interconnected and most times, students just need someone to talk to.
“My hope is that if students are really in a bad place that coming and talking to someone can give them a glimmer of hope that something good can come from a situation,” Eno said.
The schedule was sent out in an e-mail, but can also be found at the Wellness Center.