Mental Health Education Must Be Prioritized at Orientation

Ian Sims

It is imperative that topics related to mental health are covered extensively during freshman orientation. A survey of over four million college students, including students at the University of Texas at Austin (UT), found that anxiety is a concern amongst 41.6 percent of students and depression amongst 36.4 percent of students. By creating an orientation meeting dedicated solely to mental health, UT will better prepare freshmen students to tackle their first year of university life.

Instilling mental health education into freshmen is important because first year students are particularly vulnerable. The transition between high school and college can be brutal for many. New students face a double front: they must not only adapt to life away from home for the first time, but also to the rigorous coursework of a prestigious university.

While some issues relating to mental health are covered during freshman orientation, they are done so sporadically, wedged into a slew of other meetings that already cover a multitude of topics. Furthermore, simply informing students of the mental health resources available on campus is not enough when the Counseling and Mental Health Center is understaffed and underfunded.   

A common complaint of the Counseling and Mental Health Center is that students are only able to see a counselor up to 4-6 times a semester. If any additional treatment is needed, students are told to seek care off campus. Furthermore, if a student returns to the CMHC during a future semester, it is unlikely that they will be able to receive care from the same counselor as before. Instead of funneling students into an already broken system, UT would better serve its students by connecting students to resources throughout Austin as soon as possible — without students first having to book an appointment at the CMHC. 

Student support for more expansive mental health care is overwhelming. For example, a central platform point of former student body president Kevin Helgren was centered around mental health and expanding related campus resources. Recent events on campus have encouraged students to “share their stories” regarding mental illness to help remove related stigma.

I applaud recent outreach efforts; however, due to the complexity of mental health and wide range of related topics, mental health must be tackled from all aspects. A meeting could explore stress management, healthy coping mechanisms, and inform students of low-cost treatment facilities close to campus, even beyond the CMHC.

An orientation meeting devoted to mental health is not a radical idea when more playful meetings, “Capture the Flag” and “Party Like It’s 2021,” already have time slots of their own during orientation.  The creation of a meeting to delve into more in-depth topics relating to mental health would allow UT to show its students that it is taking these issues more seriously.

Ian Sims is an International Relations and Global Studies sophomore. He is a guest columnist.