Dominic Cotner: Promoting Wellbeing at Penn State
From Emily Bush-Clark on April 16th, 2020
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Shortly after I turned 18 I ran away from home and have lived on my own ever since. When I left I didn’t have any money, I didn’t have a job, and I barely had anywhere to go -- I just knew that I was unhappy and I needed to make a drastic change. For almost two years I lived every day anxious, thinking “I’m not ready for this”, “I don’t know what I’m doing”, and “I’m not sure where I’m going next.” When I was lucky enough to finally go back to school it was a surprise to learn how many of my friends and classmates felt exactly the same way about their life at Penn State.
I think it’s important for both students and faculty to be aware of the reality of the situation we’re in. According to the CDC, “In 2016, suicide became the second leading cause of death for ages 10–34” . Mental health is a tricky issue, and many of the factors that may influence a student’s mental wellbeing are unfortunately out of our University’s control. Still, I think it’s our responsibility as a community to do what we can to encourage mental wellness. To students struggling with their mental health -- you’re not alone, and you’re not less than, broken, or bad.
To faculty, I’d like to say that it’s important we take this issue seriously. It would be great if we could make sweeping, institutional changes, but working at that scale is effortful and takes time. On a smaller scale, though, we may still be able to make meaningful changes. For instance -- my Psych 243 professor, Dr. Reginald Adams, had a rule that names should be written only on the back of tests. That way, when being handed back, no student would have to worry about anyone else seeing their grade. It may seem inconsequential, but an avalanche is created with the help of many snowflakes.
It felt like the perfect opportunity to share my experience and speak up about this issue when I was nominated for the fall 2019 Civic Engagement Public Speaking Contest by my CAS 100 class.
By the time I’d begun preparing my speech last fall I thought I had a reasonable idea of the scope of the mental health crisis but almost immediately that was blown out of the water. One of the first and most helpful sources I came across was the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment from Spring 2019, which reported that 2/3 of students had experienced overwhelming anxiety between 2018 - 2019 .
The Spring 2019 NCHA went on to report that ~30% of students had at some point considered suicide, ~24% had intentionally injured themselves, and ~13% had attempted suicide. In my speech I chose only to include statistics which I believed could build towards a constructive point as opposed to just dwell in negativity, but the stats I chose to leave out were shocking.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, November). “Suicide Mortality in the
United States, 1999–2017.” www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db330.htm
2.American College Health Association. (2019). “National College Health Assessment.”