Take time to prioritize your mental health

Diana Sturdy, '23, reviews the university's mental health screening

Diana Sturdy

How are you feeling?

Not used to being asked that, are you? Personally, I can’t remember the last time someone asked me—or, more importantly, I asked myself—that question. We’ve all been fired a casual “What’s up?” or “How are you?” in passing (thank you, speaking tradition), but it’s rare that the reply we give or receive is anything beyond “I’m good” or “Okay” or “Fine.”

Until now. “How are you feeling?” is the blatant, bolded title question that greets any Washington and Lee student who clicks the link to the new mental health screenings being offered by our university. Buried in the Campus Notices emails that I casually scroll through, this promotion caught my attention, and I’m glad it did. With just that one simple question at the top of the webpage, I was hooked.

Clearly, however, the content of these mental health screenings doesn’t stop there. Self-described on the site as a “checkup from your neck up,” these brief, anonymous surveys aim to help students identify signs of mental or emotional health conditions that should be further discussed with a behavioral health professional.

The student can begin with a simple “Wide Range Screen,” or choose to take a survey for identifying behaviors associated with the following conditions: alcohol use, gambling, disordered eating, opioid misuse, psychosis, general well-being, bipolarism, depression, generalized anxiety, PTSD or substance use. This list does not encompass every condition of this breadth—but it is certainly a triumph in the name of prioritizing mental and emotional health, especially among college students.

According to research conducted by the World Health Organization in 2018, more than one-third of college students across eight countries (Australia, Belgium, Germany, Mexico, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Spain and the United States) report symptoms that align with having a mental health disorder.

Yet, in the academic- and extracurricular-intensive environment that is college, mental and emotional health is often swept under the rug in order to prioritize a busy schedule. These brief avenues for self-reflection, self-introspection and self-evaluation hold the potential for immense value and impact.

I do not believe these surveys are perfect. Since they require one to answer and assess themselves, I worry that for those who are struggling with these conditions but are not aware of their struggle, or are denying its existence, their responses would not lead them to correct results. The answers needed to point to a positive or negative assessment for each condition are very obvious, so they allow for user manipulation quite easily.

However, this one concern is far outweighed by the many benefits I believe this service can provide. As a whole, from the very first question, these surveys force us to do something extraordinary: stop, for just a moment, and actually think about our well-being. It doesn’t take long, but it does take self-reflection—the very kind that people as a whole, but especially college students, rarely make time for (myself included).

We are tasked with tackling our true thoughts about feelings of loneliness, anxiety, hopelessness, insecurity and the habits and behaviors we often perform without thinking. At the very least, we receive the benefits of simply checking in with ourselves and our decisions. At the most, we could finally receive the motivation and reasoning needed to seek the insight and support of a professional—which I believe is valuable for everyone.

The website for the screenings also places significant focus on spreading awareness, with informative fact sheets at the end of each targeted survey, as well as a drive to normalize mental and emotional health conditions, calling each “common, treatable mental health issues.” After each survey, regardless of the results, the student is prompted with resources to consult, as well as resounding reassurances of “you are not alone”—a message that is too easily forgotten, and too often overlooked.

So, whether you are seeking answers for yourself—or, as the site includes, a friend—take the mere few minutes to visit here. Take the time to really know how you’re feeling—and not just how to recite the answer to a standardized greeting.