Student mental health on decline


By Lillian Lewis

In January, N.C. State University had another tragic incident, losing a sixth student on campus. Although his death was declared unintentional and had no signs of foul play according to investigators, there was counseling for people who knew Adam Fawcett, a freshman in the College of Engineering. 

NC State has had eight student deaths so far this school year, one being unintentional, another an auto accident, and the rest all suicides. As tragic as it may be, it is not uncommon. Suicide is the #2 cause of death for college-age students, the first being unintentional injuries according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

William Peace University, like many colleges around the United States, has taken into account students’ mental health by setting up wellness centers to talk to counselors. However, students sometimes may not be comfortable or able to wait until a counselor is available. 

Mental health problems are common among college students overall but particularly dominate among students of color. Young students of color typically have less access to proper mental health care and are more likely to be misdiagnosed, according to Psychology Today. This distrust can carry on into adulthood. 

“I’m not ashamed to say as a woman of color when looking for counseling, a doctor, or a dentist, I seek people who look like me because that’s one less barrier,” said Pamela Adkins, a psychology professor at WPU.  “You don’t have to explain to them your history or where you come from or the things that you go through from day to day. You often don’t have to worry about being judged.” 

A study approved by the American Psychological Association showed that during COVID-19, more than 60% of college students fit the requirements to have at least one mental health problem. The most susceptible students are women, LGBTQ+ members, low-income students, students of color, and students who are caregivers. 

Yamila “Yams” Emanuel is a senior at WPU who believes she has seen these statistics on the WPU campus. Emmanuel says that students on campus, especially students of color, tend to hold their emotions in.

“A lot of people like to ball a lot of stuff in,” says Emanuel, ” especially at Peace because, like, even though we’re considered like a PWI [Predominantly White Institution], almost all the college students here got some kind of shit going on. And I guess we’re so used to keeping it inside and just go on about life or just holding it off.”

To be a PWI, The US Department of Education requires a university to have 50% or more enrollment from white students, but can also refer to a university that is “historically white.”

“I’ve actually heard students say this, they would rather spend money to go to like other counselors that have a more diverse staff, than use the free counseling service here,” says Emanuel.  

During COVID-19, Peace introduced Pacer Day to take time to relax and focus on mental health. Schools such as UNC and Duke have had similar days to take a break from classes and have students and faculty relax. Even with the days to de-stress, students are still stressed about their college experience. 

“Stress comes in different levels,” Adkins says. “Sometimes good stress is still stress. I have to remind people that. Planning a wedding is stressful, it can give you anxiety the same way as failing a class could. So we have to really analyze what the stressors are.” 

Alicia Wiggins is the Director of Counseling at the William Peace Wellness Center. 

“Even though we are two years out of COVID, I do feel like the effects are very much felt,” Wiggins says. “I still think students are coming in feeling like they are not where they are supposed to be.”  

In a study done by Boston University from 2013-2021, mental health has been on a decline for college students over the past nine years overall, with a 135% increase in depression and a 110% increase in anxiety. 

“People do not realize that this is free and that they are there all the time,”  Emanuel says.

Wiggins says that since the end of COVID-19, more students have been returning to The Wellness Center to have free counseling sessions. 

“This is my first year, but I feel like I am hearing from other staff members that students are returning to the Well Center much more,”  Wiggins said. 

The WPU Wellness Center is available to all students and offers free counseling sessions. Students are able to schedule an appointment through MyPacerNet and have free anonymous online mental health screening at ULifeline.

William Peace University Resources: 

Wellness/Health Center:

Learn more about mental health and evaluate yourself at ULifeline.

Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: Call or text 988

Art by Kathleen Howe