UNC-CH’s wellness day the beginning of broader focus on mental health, expert says

Orange County News

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – Instead of going to class Tuesday, UNC-Chapel Hill students will focus on mental health. It is a response to the deaths of two students this semester.

Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz declared Oct. 12 a wellness day, noting in a letter to campus: “[W]e are aware that college-aged students carry an increased risk of suicide. This crisis has directly impacted members of our community – especially with the passing of two students on campus in the past month.”

Senior Christie Scialabba said she’s sad and frustrated.

“Suicide needs to, be in some way, prevented,” she said, adding that it can be very difficult for students to know how to help, even when they want to.

“I think many students at least are unsure of what they should say to their fellow students, and I feel the same way,” she said. “You could be trying to say the right thing and say the wrong thing.”

“The mental health crisis is broad and far-reaching,” said Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, the chair of UNC’s Department of Psychiatry.

“The rate of anxiety and depression is up three to four times. We know that youth are really struggling, adolescents, college-aged people.”

She said Tuesday’s wellness day is only the beginning of a broader focus on mental health. That focus, she added, is needed across the country.

Last year, Duke also canceled classes for a wellness day.

A spokesperson for North Carolina State University said a wellness day is not planned, but mental health resources are available.

Meltzer-Brody said treatment can make a big difference, and no one should suffer in silence.

“Things can get better and treatment matters, and getting help makes a huge difference. So we want people to reach out for help if they are struggling,” she said.

Some UNC students said they’ve had trouble getting counseling appointments because so many people need them as the campus struggles with the deaths of two students.

Still, through their sadness, classmates are trying to encourage each other.

“I’ve gotten a lot of questions, and I’ve actually asked a lot of questions. ‘How are you doing today?’ That kind of thing,” Scialabba said. “Just checking in on people.”

“Everyone is struggling,” added first-year student Isaiah Kirkpatrick, “I think it’s really important to be there for each other and let everyone know that we’re all trying to figure this out, and no one really has everything together.”

The university is planning a mental health summit for later this month.

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, there is help. Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).

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