How Drexel student organizations promote mental health | The Triangle

How Drexel student organizations promote mental health

Photo Courtesy of Drexel SAMMP

An increasing college student mental health crisis demands attention be given to the various services available on Drexel University’s campus. There are several student organizations that focus on supporting peers’ mental health, but with limited resources, their efforts are not enough to curb the rising prevalence and severity of mental health issues. With increased exposure and efforts to support student organizations, they can be better suited to help advocate for student mental health. 

There are a wide range of issues that a growing percentage of college students face. According to the Healthy Minds Study, a national survey of college student mental health, 41 percent of college students suffered from major depression to some extent, while 36 percent dealt with varying levels of anxiety during the 2022 to 2023 academic year. In comparison, levels of depression and anxiety were lower for the 2018-2019 academic year, before the COVID-19 pandemic: 36 percent and 31 percent respectively. 

The missions for organizations such as Drexel Active Minds, National Alliance on Mental Illness On Campus (NAMI) Drexel University and Stress and Anxiety Management for Medical Professionals are centered around supporting students’ mental health. The majority of other related clubs, including Neurodragons (a group for neurodivergent and neurotypical students), Queer Student Union, Psi Chi Honor Society (the international honor society in psychology) and Students of Color in Psychology do not solely focus on mental health but continue to make an effort to provide a supportive community for all students. 

Board members of these groups mentioned several issues that Drexel students struggle with. The most prevalent were burnout and stress, particularly in regards to keeping up with the pace of the quarter system. 

“Drexel as a university gives its students very little breathing room so stress and overworking is… an issue,” said E Berlin, a fifth year game design and production major and president of Queer Student Union.

Other issues mentioned were depression, anxiety, social media dependence, low self esteem, relationships, financial strains, social injustice, loneliness, sleep difficulties and suicidal ideation. 

“A negative self concept… especially in our age, can really determine a lot of things because when people are experiencing a very low self esteem, that really affects the way that we see the world and affects the opportunities that we feel we deserve or the relationships we feel we deserve,” said the head of the Psi Chi newsletter, Corinne Farley-DiMaio, a senior studying psychology and minoring in criminal justice and computer crime. 

Student organizations host a variety of events and activities to try to combat these issues and build a greater sense of community.

Many clubs host informational sessions. These can include a wide range of topics from how to deal with burnout, time management or struggles with identity.

“A really notable event we had was with the Women in Computing Society club on campus where we really talked about just women in the work place and what mental health issues kind of come with that as well,” said Fuad Hoque, a third year psychology student and president of NAMI on Campus Drexel University. 

The goal of many organizations is to provide a safe space for students to talk, reduce stigma and redirect students to the appropriate resources. 

“Active Minds advocates for student mental health by educating them about the resources available to all of us both at Drexel and outside of college. We try to dispel some of the myths and stigmas surrounding mental illnesses and mental health treatment at our meetings and teach attendees how to recognize the signs of a mental health crisis. Sometimes it’s hard for us to know when we need help, and when we do, we don’t know where to start. Understanding how to recognize our own mental health needs is an important skill for everyone to develop,” said Soumya Vavilala, a senior majoring in biology with an epidemiology minor and co-president of Active Minds. 

Psychoeducational interventions were found to be minimally effective on their own according to the American Counsel on Education. This does not mean that clubs should get rid of these sessions, but that they alone are not effective in changing student behavior or preventing issues in the future. 

Something else that affects a student’s mental health is their sense of belonging. Almost every board member of their respective clubs explained that they first joined their organization to find people who were interested in the same things or who shared similar experiences. 

As a first generation medical student in her family, Sidney Lampert, a second year medical student in Drexel’s College of Medicine and co-president of SAMMP, felt like she was missing guidance on how to navigate the struggles of medical school: “Networking is really helpful when you have the options. I didn’t and I still don’t. So if I can give back in any way and try to relieve stress and help others in any way and give them the resources that helped me, that is 100 percent a reason to do it and be a part of an organization like this.” 

Specifically for Sophie Gordon, a fifth year business and engineering student and vice president of Neurodragons, she wanted to find people that related to her experiences as an individual on the autism spectrum. 

According to the Healthy Minds Study, 42 percent of students received support for their mental health from a friend who wasn’t a roommate, demonstrating the importance of making connections to comfortably talk about mental health issues. 

The solution to improving mental health needs to involve a team effort: “In general always prioritize a team-based way of getting things done,” said Lampert.

One option could be a mentorship program, which Psi Chi used to have: “Getting the mentorship program going again and getting that momentum… if that could be central part of Psi Chi again I think that would be great…because I had a mentor… and that really helped me,” said Farley-DiMaio.

Emerging research shows that mentoring might be helpful in improving mental health, specifically in reducing distress and depression. 

For solutions among students and other organizations, many of the club leaders wished to increase turnout. Additionally, they want other clubs to continue the discussion of mental health and create inviting spaces for peer support to improve mental health.

“The biggest thing that [others] can be doing is listening, above all else,” said Hoque. “At the end of the day we are all people… as long as there are people, there is going to be mental health to be discussed.” 

Additionally, students mentioned how the Drexel administration can help student organizations expand their efforts. This included increasing support for student organizations either through financial, training or networking means. 

Lampert mentioned that the budget SAMMP receives from Drexel is limited and can only go so far in supporting their activities. 

Farley also expressed that in the past, Psi Chi has wanted to host various events around mental health and mental health disorders, but they cannot talk about sensitive topics without the proper training and qualifications. 

According to the American Counsel on Education and the Journalist’s Resource, skill-training interventions are one of the methods with the most evidence supporting positive mental health effects. 

By helping student organizations, the university can help students reach more peers to foster a better community where people are comfortable talking about mental health. This would also help them provide more in-depth activities, such as working with professionals and offering more direct access to services. 

Interventions lead by professionals with exercises can be very effective, especially when offered multiple times, according to the American Cousel on Education.

In line with this, SAMMP offers events where physicians will come and talk to members about mental health and stress management. Additionally, SAMMP is trying to connect with Labakcare, a Philadelphia non-profit that works to improve awareness of health issues and provide free care. 

Also, members of Active Minds “try to invite mental health professionals to speak at… events because meeting the clinicians you might encounter when seeking help can make the process less scary,” said Vavilala. 

The students additionally expressed a need to improve Drexel services. For instance, Gordon suggested improving Disability Services and the process of applying for accommodations. 

“I also have ADHD. I barely remember homework deadlines and each quarter I have to reapply for all of my Disability Service accommodations. It’s really hard to remember all of that,” said Gordon.

Almost all of the board members suggested expanding outreach for Drexel’s Counseling Center

“Drexel can promote their counseling center. Informing professors about the stress students have from taking rigorous classes and spreading the word about resources students can utilize to manage their stress and mental health better would be really useful,” said Prasanna Varadhan, a psychology major and neuroscience minor and president of SOCPSY.

According to the Healthy Minds Study, 15 percent of students seeking mental health care did not receive care because they did not know where to go. 

Overall, student organizations put in their best efforts to offer opportunities to support student mental health but larger-scale efforts from the university to form a collective front against mental health issues are needed. 

This article is part of a grant awarded to The Triangle from the Solutions Journalism Network investigating student mental health at Drexel University.