College student leaders in West Virginia launch initiative to help with student mental health

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — College student leaders from around the state are leading an initiative meant to create greater visibility for student mental health, as the push for additional mental and emotional options continue on college campuses.

West Virginia’s Advisory Council of Students (ACS), which comprises student government representatives from each of the state’s public colleges and universities, announced the launch of the West Virginia Green Bandana Initiative recently.

Alyssa Parks, the ACS chair and Student Body President at Marshall University told MetroNews that this allows students to participate in peer mental health training such as QPR suicide prevention training and first aid/mental health training. She said through the training, students can help friends experiencing a mental health crisis.

Alyssa Parks

“Essentially when you get that training, you will be able to help your peer in a mental health crisis until they are able to get to professional help,” she said.

“Maybe it’s intimidating to go to professional help and talk to someone you don’t know. You can find comfort in a friend and then they can help you, come with you and be your support system to get that professional help that you need.”

Through the initiative, students who complete mental health training this spring receive green bandanas that, when displayed on their backpacks or elsewhere, signal to other students that they are open to talking and are a source of support, a release said. Parks said she learned of this idea through another student body president from North Carolina. Numerous college campuses across the country participate in the Green Bandana Initiative.

Parks said that schools are struggling to keep up with the demand for mental and social health services on campus. She said along with the initiative, she would prefer a 24-7 telehealth option for West Virginia college students. She said many times, for students experiencing a mental health crisis, it takes weeks to wait for an appointment on campus.

According to Candace Layne, the director of Marshall University’s counseling center, in 2018, when she started at Marshall, 683 students visited the counseling center. In the 2020-2021 academic year, 991 students went to the counseling center for help. In the winter semester of 2021-2022 alone,  967 students have come to the counseling center, she told MetroNews.

A national survey of college students in 2020 cited by APM Reports found that nearly 40% experienced depression. One in three students reported having had anxiety, and one in seven said they’d thought about suicide in the past year, the report stated.

Parks said the COVID-19 pandemic that began in early 2020 only accelerated the need for mental health services on campus. She said the stresses include being in quarantine for months, taking online classes and not being able to socialize like normal, all while also being away from home.

Parks also the pandemic sparked food and financial insecurities.

“COVID-19 made it financially difficult for many people including students. That can translate into mental health issues if you’re not only stressed about school work but where you’re going to get food or how you’re going to pay for rent,” she said.

Through the West Virginia Collegiate Initiative to Advance Healthy Campus Communities, certified trainers are facilitating the training opportunities, which began in late February and are continuing through the spring semester. According to a release from the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, 30 trainings have been made possible.

West Virginia Green Bandana Initiative

In support of the initiative, NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Greater Wheeling received a grant to purchase 2,000 green bandanas to distribute to the 18 participating college campuses.

Parks said even though she will be graduating following the spring semester, she hopes training sessions will be offered year-round on campuses.

For more information on West Virginia Green Bandana Initiative, including a list of upcoming training opportunities CLICK HERE.

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