A Deeper Perspective on Mental Health at Walla Walla University
As fall carries on, students become tense against the steady increase of schooling while mental health is being stretched and tested in the cool season at Walla Walla University.
The calendar weeks wait for no one; as students at WWU are expected to buckle down on class material, each pursuit is met with another challenge. For some, this is the beginning of a new journey that pushes and tugs on the three pillars of students’ well-being: academics, social life, and mental health. Students are up against the autumn rush while life inevitably lags them behind with sometimes harrowing surprises or hauls them back to what they seemingly left behind.
Dr. Naden, a licensed family systems therapist, of WWU said, “We should all be thinking about mental health all the time, just like we do about physical health,” encouraging regular attention on mental health.  Mental health is oversimplified as an abstract subject. Dr. Naden noted that mental health should be taken as literally as the health of the physical body you work to build up or patiently heal. Mental health finds itself in the vulnerable corners of who we are and where we are emotionally and physically. Dr. Naden’s health and wellness department has advocated for a stronger approach to the student body’s wellbeing.
The health and wellness department strives for mental health awareness as an essential feature for the students this year, with resources such as the health and wellness center’s card-writing, coffee chats, small groups, and preparing of meals with the intention of bringing mental health to the forefront of students’ minds.
Dr. Naden added, “Student health and wellness is offering five groups this quarter in order to foster connection and well-being for students. The student health and wellness team is excited about how many students are engaging with these groups each week and is enjoying the opportunity to form new connections through real conversations.”  Students across the country historically struggle with mental health and, most notably, the emotional impact it’s had at our institutions.
The Jed Foundation conducted a survey of almost 200 undergrad and post-graduate students on their emotional state heading into the fall semester, which showed that “63% of students say their emotional health is worse than before the COVID-19 pandemic and 56% of students are significantly concerned with their ability to care for their mental health.”  Mental health continues to be a growing concern within universities across the U.S., including WWU.
Physics lab. Three students studying at a lab table in the physics lab. It helps to take a break and process things from time to time. Taken by aswwusmugmug.com
As more studying begins to pile up, students find themselves struggling internally, which one may argue contributes to the rise in mental health issues. Commentary from the University of Minnesota stated that, “Students tend to forget about or postpone their own self-care and needs. They neglect their mental health” and “they worry about what others will think.”  The response to mental health has been timid with devastating impacts on students as fall quarter cruises on.
Nevertheless, WWU students are having to be proactive in their academics, which wait for no one; midterm exams are quickly approaching in less than two weeks. Mental health remains an uncomfortable conversation for some – it endures during positive and negative change. Dr. Naden concluded, “It is vitally important to create the relaxing times and spaces you need in order to process what is happening around you, and what you are experiencing, so that you can be thoughtful and responsive, rather than reactive, in your life.”  Naden suggested using a cognitive approach to the demands that life throws at us. From the way we act to the way we talk, mental health remains a part of us, coexisting in our state of being.
WWU students are left to decide which direction their mental health takes, for or against them in an increasingly vigorous academic environment.
1. Interview with Ph.D. Michelle Naden, 10/17/22.
3. Survey of college student mental health in 2020. (2021, August 30). The Jed Foundation. https://jedfoundation.org/news-views/survey- of- college-student-mental-health-in-2020
4. Mental health. Parenting College Students. (n.d.). https://innovation.umn.edu/college-parent/mental-health