Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Village and Mental Health

R. Buckminster Fuller once said that human beings were not meant to live in an area any larger than a village. This type of community, he believed, afforded us the greatest opportunity for both advancement and mutual protection. This point of view is also appropriate as we consider how to best manage the mental health of students (and ourselves).

College environments are inherently protective, due largely to proximity to others, availability of supportive resources, and the possibility of protective monitoring offered by some offices such as a dean of students or campus police. At the same time college campuses can be very large and, depending on housing features and a student's choices, isolating. Here is where "the village" comes into play.

It takes an entire campus community, the village, to advance and protect students. Too often this responsibility is left solely to certain supportive offices, such as a counseling center. While such services can and do work wonders, going a long way toward the preservation of mental health, they simply cannot and never will be able to accomplish it alone. Just as villagers must cooperate to survive, so all campus constituencies must work together for the sake of its members.

Everyone has a role and no one should be excused from this duty. From salaried administrators to those on hourly wages, each community member has knowledge of and are witness to issues student's face, no matter how remote it may seem. The primary task is to sensitize everyone to this fact, and to give them the tools they need to communicate accordingly. It is the simple buddy system, people. This system has stood the test of time since we all lived in caves, and it still works today.

The single best antidote to a host of emotional health issues and social ills is the proactive involvement of the entire campus community. When we all care for each other and are paying attention, we can resolve seemingly insurmountable problems. We can prevent episodes of depression. We can reduce anxieties. We can prevent suicide.

The training for this approach is available on most campuses. The skills needed are quite elementary and easy to learn. Often, what stands in the way is the attitude that "this is not my job", sometimes borne of an inaccurate assessment of liability. Training can address such myths as well. When you boil it all down, all that is needed is a street-level human response to student concerns. Once others are notified more sophisticated interventions can be arranged and are left in their hands. The work is not difficult to do and, just like CPR, everyone can and should be familiar with it. This ought to be required training on every college campus. And if you really want to address this worldwide, make it a part of the earliest part of all education.