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Pennsylvania College of Technology Community Health Nursing students show some of the handouts they provided as they educated their peers about anxiety in a busy campus lobby. From left: Amelia Buffington, of Montoursville; Rachal D. Clark, of Williamsport; Courtney P. Bender, of Lewistown; Mohanad Alquraish, of Safwa, Saudi Arabia; and Guzel S. Androvette, of Williamsport.

WILLIAMSPORT — Pennsylvania College of Technology nursing students teamed with the college’s Counseling Services Office to encourage students to participate in a brief, anonymous online questionnaire that is designed to help them understand concerns about the way they are feeling and receive feedback about whether – and how – to pursue assistance.

“The screenings are a valuable tool for connecting students with mental health services,” explained Linda L. Locher, a counselor at the college. “Students who are experiencing distress sometimes debate whether or not their concerns are ‘serious enough’ to warrant seeking services. A brief assessment can validate a student’s experience and help encourage the student to take the next step, to seek treatment. Although the stigma of seeking help for mental health concerns has lessened over the years, it can still be a challenge to recognize that help-seeking is a sign of personal strength rather than weakness.”

Students enrolled in a course called Community Health Nursing were tasked with promoting the screening tool. They researched anxiety and depression and developed a marketing campaign to promote awareness of the topic and options for treatment.

During a one-day event, they were stationed in two busy building lobbies on campus to provide informational handouts and encourage passersby to complete the assessment, either at a computer workstation in the lobby, or by accessing the survey later via a QR code printed on handouts. Their materials included two webpages, trifold posters, brochures and flyers, as well as other giveaways.

As part of the Community Health Nursing course, students learn how to promote health and prevent disease by educating individuals, families and communities.

The college’s Counseling Services Office supports anonymous online mental health screenings for several concerns, including substance use/abuse, generalized anxiety, eating disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and psychosis awareness.

“The screenings provide students with an opportunity to better understand their concerns, providing an assessment of the severity or level of their concerns and feedback about whether and how to pursue treatment or other resources,” Locher said. “It is a quick assessment that can encourage someone experiencing mental health distress to recognize their difficulties and connect them with resources.”

The screening program, provided by Mindwise Innovations, has been adopted by many colleges and universities.

In an American College Health Association survey, about 40 % of students nationwide said that they felt so depressed in the prior year that it was “difficult to function,” and 61 percent reported “overwhelming anxiety.”

The Counseling Services Office was looking for more opportunities to collaborate with the college’s academic programs to expand the outreach of mental health and counseling services to the college community.

“Promoting this tool seemed like an opportunity for Penn College students to learn more about college mental health issues, have a hands-on experience providing community education about mental health issues and to practice their health promotion models and theories from class,” Locher said.

“This was a great initiative and collaboration across departments to assist Counseling Services in expanding outreach to students while simultaneously affording opportunities for nursing students to meet learning objectives,” said Terri A. Stone, assistant professor of nursing.

In one building, a group of five students spoke with 228 individuals during a three-hour time frame. During that time, 34 students took the screenings on-site, and 600 pieces of informational material were handed out.

In the other building, 43 students took the survey on-site, and another 66 accepted handouts with a QR code to access the survey later. In total, the group interacted with 123 students. An informational website they built received 128 page views.

Chris Brady is managing editor at The Standard-Journal and can be reached at chris@standard-journal.com.

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