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Student Mental Health: A Vital Part of the Educational Journey

Jennifer Welch smiling for her headshot photo

Multiple studies released since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020 show the negative impact the pandemic had on students of all ages from grade school to higher education. For nontraditional students, it exacerbated the stresses they already had trying to juggle school and responsibilities outside of the classroom.

Jennifer Welch has been Bryant & Stratton College’s dean of Online Student Services for five years and has held similar positions throughout her career. Welch helps lead the effort to provide high-quality services for all students, especially when it comes to mental health.

“In addition to our Online Student Services department, Bryant & Stratton has a partnership with a third-party student assistance program called WellConnect. WellConnect is a perfect fit for our student population because they understand the adult learner and provide a variety of free and confidential services for BSC students and anyone in their household. These services and resources range from counseling (in-person, phone, video and text) to financial and legal consultation, life skills, and so much more,” said Welch.

How it works

Bryant & Stratton knows access is key when it comes to getting people the help they need. Welch says with WellConnect all a student has to do, whether they attend school on campus or online, is to reach out using one of many WellConnect platforms.

“Once a student reaches out to WellConnect, a representative will gather basic information about what the student’s situation is and what resources might be helpful. WellConnect specializes in finding resources within the student’s area to help with accessibility and, in most cases, act as a liaison between the student and the resource.”

The service is available for students on campus and online. For on-campus students, a Bryant & Stratton College faculty or staff member acts as a liaison to WellConnect services. These services extend a student’s support system outside of school.

“We feel it is also important to extend WellConnect services to whoever is living in the student’s household because at times the resources or services needed do not just impact the student alone. This includes individual or family counseling services,” Welch said.

Each student can receive five free counseling sessions either via phone or video conference with a licensed counselor for whatever concern they have. Each time they have a different concern or issue, they can get another five free sessions. 

Communication is key to access 

A barrier to mental health help often comes down to access. The solution can be as simple as communication and genuine understanding. 

“We discuss the importance of life skills, mental health awareness and focusing on well-being when supporting and communicating with our students. We embed WellConnect content and resources within our classrooms and even discuss their services during the new student enrollment and onboarding experience. This helps to not only educate the students about the support services we have but also normalize the reality that experiencing personal challenges and obstacles throughout their experience is normal,” said Welch. “We encourage students to come to us if they are struggling, whether it be academically, personally or mentally. We stress that if we don’t know there is a problem, we can’t help. Communicating with us when things are not going well at home or school enables us to do whatever we can within our power to help and assist.”

Communication doesn’t just come from the classroom or Bryant & Stratton faculty and staff. Like many degree programs, peer support plays a large part in the overall support system. 

“We have a very active private Facebook community that allows students to connect with other classmates or peers. We have seen students post their personal frustrations and say, “I’m ready to quit school, I can’t do this anymore, my kids are sick, I just got off a third shift” or other things that are happening in their lives. Then you will see numerous comments of words of encouragement or referencing WellConnect or the Student Services department for guidance and resources,” Welch said.

Welch says knowing these resources are available and how to utilize them has helped students at times when they need it most. 

“WellConnect has been able to step in during crisis management situations with students—some dealing with mental illness, some dealing with natural disasters. For example, WellConnect was able to assist our students located on the West Coast during the terrible wildfires last year. We also had students impacted by the hurricanes that hit the Southeast and Gulf Coast areas in 2022. Students would reach out to our Student Services department letting us know that they were displaced or needing housing resources, and WellConnect was able to assist.” 

Persistence with empathy

Often faculty and staff members are the first people students go to for help. Although a third party ultimately takes care of specific mental health and other needs a student has, faculty and staff still play an active role in the students’ lives. They are trained on how to talk to students and support them, so they are not scared to get help and know they are not just a number. 

“Words matter, and the words you choose to use should show support, empathy and connection with the student. We focus on using asset-based communication in every interaction with a student. The focus then becomes on normalizing the challenges, developing realistic goals and expectations, and creating a positive interaction with the student.”

Prioritizing mental health is a strength 

Bryant & Stratton College’s approach to mental health is one of realism and normalization. Starting at orientation, leaders talk to students about the stressors that may lie ahead to show they understand being a student can be difficult. 

“It starts with learning that stress is inevitable, but self-awareness can help identify triggers to help deal with the stress. I feel our students make a huge sacrifice when they decide to enroll in college. Most of our students have children, some of them are single parents, and some are also working while going to school, and navigating through that is hard.”

Welch says Bryant & Stratton College offers degree programs in some of the most stressful careers. She says faculty and staff say they are realistic with students about what lies ahead and acknowledge it won’t be easy, but students do have support to guide them to success on their journey.

“I feel that with the combined efforts of our faculty, staff and WellConnect services, we provide students with support to help them navigate through their educational journey. If we can give our students additional tools to navigate through their stressors and normalize mental health awareness, then we have given them some additional skills that are really important to success and simply navigating through life.”

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