VCU joins network of colleges to strengthen campus mental health programs

Overhead image of the VCU Student Commons
As a JED Campus, VCU is now part of a network of nearly 200 member schools working to strengthen mental health, suicide prevention and substance abuse programs. (Photo by Allen Jones, University Marketing)

Virginia Commonwealth University has joined JED Campus, a network of U.S. colleges and universities working to enhance emotional health and strengthen collegiate suicide prevention and substance abuse programs. JED Campus is an initiative of the JED Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to protect emotional health and prevent suicide among teens and young adults.

As a JED Campus, VCU is working to create a mental health strategic plan and is beginning a multi-year process to assess and enhance campus efforts in the areas of substance abuse, suicide prevention and other mental health services. The goal is to help create lasting and positive change in the campus community, said Lisa Joyner, director of The Wellness Resource Center

“We’re looking at anxiety, depression, stress management, mindfulness and our overall campus culture,” Joyner said. “One of the main focuses for us is alcohol and other drugs. We’re looking at how students get in to see clinicians for anxiety, depression, even eating disorders, and many other areas of mental illness. It’s thinking [about] the larger scope of mental health.”

Joyner and a committee that includes staff from University Counseling Services, University Student Health Services, the Division of Student Affairs, VCU LEAD, VCU Police, the College Behavioral and Emotional Health Institute, Student Accessibility and Educational Opportunity, Student Conduct and Academic Integrity and New Student and Family Programs are working on the strategic plan.

“This is at the center of a lot of different efforts,” Joyner said. “We’re working on a wellness strategic plan for VCU. We’re working on one for alcohol and other drugs, violence prevention, and this one for mental health.”

Campus mental health resources 

VCU provides mental health resources for students through the following offices and divisions: 

The Wellness Resource Center | University Counseling Services | University Student Health Services | Division of Student Affairs

Joining JED Campus is part of an effort to build a more comprehensive approach to mental health services and overall health and wellness at VCU, Joyner said. Her committee is conducting a campus environmental scan, an exhaustive survey of what the VCU community is saying about a host of health issues and the university programs that address them.

The Well also recently created a peer health education group to help create mental health programs for students and inform them about campus resources. Joyner said VCU also is working on installing signs in university parking garages with information about the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

“We’ve also talked about drug collection/drug return programs for prescription medications — for leftover medication to make sure it’s properly disposed,” she said. “And you will see us expand the collegiate [substance abuse] recovery program this fall. We’ll be looking at the number of meetings we have, access to resources for our students, and we’ll work with Human Resources to look at ways we can engage with faculty and staff who may be able to benefit from various meetings on campus.”

In addition to working with the JED Foundation on strategies and programs regarding mental health, joining JED Campus puts VCU in a group of nearly 200 member schools.

“As we’re thinking about strategic plans and programs and risky behaviors, we’re able to communicate with one another and say, ‘These are the thing that are happening here and this is how we are tackling it. How are you tackling it on your campus?’” Joyner said. “It gives us a platform to communicate with one another.”

The environmental scan began in December and should finish in the spring, Joyner said. A report will be published to the VCU JED website.

“It will give us a sense of what’s happening at VCU and what we need to do,” Joyner said. “Mental health is important. We see students coming to campus and they are stressed out or depressed and they are wondering, ‘What resources does VCU have to support me?’ I think with us joining JED, we can sit down and say, ‘We know the top mental health issues our students are battling, and here’s how we can address those issues.’”