Editorial: Mental health statement should be in all syllabi

By The Beacon | September 8, 2016 9:54am

Students have asked and the administration has answered.

University President Fr. Mark Poorman recently gave a convocation speech to University faculty and staff, and introduced a new strategic plan entitled “Vision 2020.” The five-year plan aspires to improve the university in all aspects, but includes for the first time, a progressive plan for the promotion of good mental health on campus.

Poorman outlined the many steps the University has already taken to make mental health care more accessible on campus. These include hiring another full-time counselor, giving students the ability to make an appointment and be seen by a counselor in about a day, adding a full time position for Early Alert (a program on campus that flags at-risk students and makes sure they get the care and attention they need), and the addition of an after-hours program called “Proto Call” that allows students to get access to a mental health professional when the Health and Counseling Center is not open.

And for the first time, Poorman announced that “every single course syllabus” will include a mental health statement that reads:

As a college student, you may sometimes experience problems with your mental health that interfere with academic experiences and negatively impact daily life. If you or someone you know experiences mental health challenges at UP, please contact the University of Portland Health and Counseling Center in Orrico Hall (down the hill from Franz Hall and Mehling Hall) at http://www.up.edu/healthcenter/ or at 503-943-7134. Their services are free and confidential, and if necessary they can provide same day appointments. Also know that the University of Portland Public Safety Department (503-943-4444) has personnel trained to respond sensitively to mental health emergencies at all hours. Remember that getting help is a smart and courageous thing to do – for yourself, for those you care about, and for those who care about you.

Although this call to action was made by Poorman, it has unfortunately been overlooked by many faculty members across campus, and does not in fact appear in all syllabi. Although Poorman suggested this to all faculty, it has not yet been officially required campus wide. Due to this presumed oversight, this information is not as accessible to the student body as Vision 2020 suggests it should be.

Vision 2020 has only very recently been introduced, and is indeed a five-year plan. We are so proud to be apart of the University of Portland at a time when the importance of mental health is being recognized as seriously as it has been to be included in this University-wide strategic plan. We hope that in the next five years Vision 2020 will come alive with progress on all fronts, specifically every person on campus recognizing the importance of mental health.

The upper administration has given our professors what they need to help us realize the importance of our mental health, and we need our professors to promote this positive change by including it in their syllabi and explicitly mentioning it to every class. This mental health statement needs to be pointed out and driven home to all students.

Often professors are the only non-peers that students encounter in day-to-day life. It is absolutely essential that the invitation to prioritize mental wellness is personally emphasized in every classroom.

Professors: This is something students take seriously and we want you to as well. This is a step in the right direction, but we challenge you to do more. We need this from you. This is an opportunity for us as a campus community to make great leaps in mental wellness, suicide prevention and destroying the stigma around mental illness on The Bluff.