Talking About Mental Health

There are a handful of commonalities across the spectrum of our Williams alumni family, 28,000 strong and growing. One of these commonalities, mental health and the various challenges to it, impact all of us, through our own experiences and/or those of family and friends. I want to share a few words related to this issue, both about the ongoing commitment Williams makes to its undergraduate community and observations from our experiences engaging with the alumni community.

Supporting the mental health of students is at the fore of critical issues on college campuses nationally. More students are accessing mental health services, and their needs are greater (e.g., more severe depression, anxiety and related diagnoses).

The goal is for all students to thrive in college and beyond by developing healthy self-care skills.

Williams, too, has experienced growth in student need for services, and the college’s investment in expanding mental health services is unprecedented. Williams’ leadership comes in the form of human resources, our innovative approach to services and our vision for the future of college mental health nationally. Several additional staff therapists were hired over the past year alone, diversifying the team and creating a student/therapist ratio this year of 147:1, in comparison to a national average of well over 800:1.

Williams also is seeking to impact the national conversation about college mental health to strategically and intentionally expand the vision for mental health in college from surviving to thriving—from crisis management and treatment to overall well-being. In this way, what was previously known as Psych Services to many of you is now the newly evolving Integrative Wellbeing Services, which aims to work with and on behalf of the whole person—physically, psychologically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. The goal is for all students to thrive in college and beyond by developing healthy self-care skills and systemic supports and to genuinely experience and integrate the full range of human experiences in a healthy way.

Ultimately, Williams seeks a time when alumni can use the integrative well-being skills they learned at college and actively contribute to a world where all can thrive. While we are excited about this expanding journey of wellbeing on which the college now finds itself, many of you reach out to us in the Alumni Relations Office to share stories and concerns, sometimes personal, more often about a friend and classmate. There’s a desire to support fellow Ephs struggling with their own disruptions to mental health and to also acknowledge the feeling of helplessness that can accompany the effort. What we can do to help in these very personal situations is something we’ve spent time thinking about. Listening always offers its power. Facilitating connections to expand the circle of friends in the know—that’s what we’re always here for, no matter the circumstances. We don’t have easy answers, but knowing you’re not alone—and that our caring, compassionate Williams family is here for you—might be the most important reminder we can offer.

Sending best wishes from Williamstown,

—Brooks Foehl ’88, Director, Alumni Relations

bfoehl@williams.edu