Prevention through Connection: Creating a Campus Climate of Care

By Owen, Jesse; Rodolfa, Emil | Planning for Higher Education, January-March 2009 | Go to article overview

Prevention through Connection: Creating a Campus Climate of Care


Owen, Jesse, Rodolfa, Emil, Planning for Higher Education


To whom does the Millennial student in psychological stress reach out?

College students today are members of the Millennial Generation, characterized by feelings of specialness and described as sheltered, confident, team-oriented, achievement-focused, pressured, and conventional (Howe and Strauss 2000). They have more ambiguous social relationships (Glenn and Marquardt 2001) and more ways, such as cell phones and the Internet, to immediately connect with peers and family. They seek a greater understanding of who they are as individuals, what type of bonds and relationships they will form, and where they are heading with their lives (Rodolfa 2008).

Like students of prior generations, Millennials enter college with high ambitions and hopes for personal and intellectual growth. In fact, the increase of psychological treatments as well as more inclusive educational policies have enabled more students to enter college and pursue their dreams than in prior generations (Howe and Strauss 2007). However, the demands of balancing immediate social connections, increased freedom, constant peer exposure, and high academic pressure can create both excitement and confusion all within the same day. As a result, it is no surprise that over 90 percent of college students report being stressed, approximately 40 percent report being so distressed that it interferes with their academic and social functioning, and nearly 10 percent report seriously contemplating suicide (American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment 2008). These figures are brought to life by high-profile media cases such as Elizabeth Shin's suicide at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University. Moreover, these well-publicized events have contributed to a feeling of increased anxiety on campus. Students, staff, and faculty are more cautious of aberrant student behavior, and they express concern and seek consultation when students referto self-harm or fantasies about harming others.

The complexities of student psychological distress demand innovative approaches to creating a campus that increases protective factors (e.g., social support, self-awareness, early identification) and decreases risk factors (e.g., alcohol use, depression, relationship (Owen, Tao, and Rodolfa 2006). Recent prevention efforts have focused on suicide and related psychological such as alcohol use and depression (e.g., the Campus and Counseling Act, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's [SAMSHA] Suicide Prevention Grants). In this article, we discuss ways to promote prevention efforts to face the growing challenge of reaching, identifying, and supporting distressed and distressing students. First, we explore the necessary and sufficient factors associated with successful prevention efforts. Next, we turn our attention to three key areas of focus for prevention efforts: campus climate, relationships, and intrapersonal functioning. Last, we provide practical suggestions to foster more collaboration and improve prevention protocols on campus.

Factors Associated with Successful Prevention Efforts

Factor 1: counseling centers- necessary but not sufficient for successful prevention. Counseling centers are important to the mission of colleges and universities because they provide psychological services that can students' academic and personal functioning (Bishop Frank and Kirk 1975; Gerdes and Mallinckrodt 1994; 1997; Miles-Novoa 1999; Owen, Smith, and Rodolfa, forthcoming; Sharkin 2004; Turner and Berry 2000; Mason, and Ewing 1997; Wolgast et al. 2005). Moreover, counseling centers play a key role in providing preventive and interventional mental health services for students.

However, as more students use personal counseling services, the balance between prevention and intervention has necessarily shifted, with more time and energy now devoted to intervention. …

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