At a time when the nation is calling for broader awareness about mental health issues and access to services and supports, Montclair State University has joined JED Campus, a national initiative of The Jed Foundation (JED), helping colleges and universities support the mental health and well-being of their students.
The program is a multi-year strategic collaboration that will allow the University to assess and enhance its efforts around mental health, substance abuse and suicide prevention.
“JED Campus helps schools by working with them to survey everything they are doing to support their students’ emotional health, and find practical ways to augment these efforts in a comprehensive way,” said John McPhee, executive director of JED, a nonprofit organization that exists to protect emotional health and prevent suicide for teens and young adults nationally.
The collaborative effort was largely funded through a partnership between the Montclair-based Partners for Health Foundation in conjunction with JED. The University’s Parent Fund also contributed to allow the University to join JED Campus.
“We believe that the implementation of a campus-wide approach to mental health will lead to safer, healthier communities, and likely greater student retention,” McPhee said.
When students have the tools to make their own healthy decisions, observed Jude M. Uy, staff psychologist and suicide prevention coordinator at Montclair State, they are better positioned to learn, study and pursue their academic goals.
Growing numbers of college students say they are facing mental- and emotional-health troubles. It is not unusual for students to have their first encounter with depression or anxiety while in college, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Sometimes students who have struggled with these issues before have a return of symptoms.
“The college years are the age when many mental health issues first manifest, and it can be a time of significant stress and pressure,” McPhee said.
Montclair State has a wide availability of mental health and counseling services available on campus for students, and has pledged its commitment to destigmatizing mental health issues, Uy said.
The pro-mental health culture at Montclair State includes counseling and physical health services, crisis programs and early identification of students with problems, and discussions on identity, empowerment and intercultural competency through Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). Referrals for therapists and psychologists and outreach programs and workshops with a variety of student groups are also offered.
Earlier this year, Montclair State was one of just 17 colleges and universities nationwide to receive a suicide prevention grant from Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention. The funding will help the University establish the first-ever formalized New Jersey campus suicide and violence prevention consortium, the University and College Alliance for Prevention of Suicide. Network members will collaborate to decrease the incidence of suicides on New Jersey campuses by disseminating and sharing suicide prevention resources, information, policies and best practices.
This fall, Montclair State launched Residents in Recovery, a new housing option for students wishing to live in a supportive, substance-free community. In addition, Montclair State has declared itself to be “stigma free” by joining the Codey Fund for Mental Health to ensure that “compassionate, quality mental healthcare is accessible to everyone and that the stigma associated with mental illness is overcome through public awareness and education.”
By participating in JED Campus, the University will further demonstrate a commitment to tightening these safety nets by engaging in a continual process of assessment, planning, and enhancement. Over the next four years, JED will provide guidance and strategic collaboration to help the University better understand how all the mental health supports work together and to identify any gaps in providing a safe environment.
Altogether, more than 170 institutions of higher education representing nearly 1.9 million students are engaged in this process through their membership in JED Campus. In New Jersey, Montclair State joins The College of New Jersey and Princeton University among the half dozen NJ schools participating in the program.
Consistent with a public health approach, two guiding principles form the foundation of the JED Campus program. First, support for emotional well-being and prevention of suicide and serious substance abuse must be seen as a campus-wide responsibility. Second, the promotion of emotional health, suicide prevention and substance abuse prevention must have support from the top down.
“We know there are issues with stress and anxiety here on the Montclair State campus,” Uy said. “We are fortunate that the University’s leadership is committed to the importance of supporting the emotional well-being of students and make this a priority for the entire campus community.”