Amid on-campus tragedies, Virginia college students push for mental health resources

Amid on-campus tragedies, Virginia students push for mental health resources
Posted at 11:23 AM, Feb 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-10 11:23:19-05

HARRISONBURG, Va. -- As James Madison hosted the funeral of the two Bridgewater College officers, they were dealing with their own tragedy after two deaths happened on campus in the past two weeks.

"It's been, as I've put it, a literal trainwreck. Just tragedy after tragedy after tragedy," Jessani Collier, the president of JMU's student body, said. "It's been extremely overwhelming on students."

A JMU student died by suicide on campus last week. There was also another on-campus suicide on Monday by someone who was not believed to be associated with JMU.

"It's just so much for students," Collier said.

After Monday's death, the school decided to cancel all classes on Tuesday, encouraging students to seek counseling with some faculty members offering assistance.

"If they're feeling that despair, that hopelessness, there are resources and people, there's myself, there's anyone on this campus that will stop," Dr. Tim Miller, JMU's Vice President of Student Affairs said.

Collier said these recent events have highlighted the need for more focus on mental health help not only at JMU but also at colleges and universities across Virginia.

"This is an ongoing issue that doesn't just last a month or a week," Collier said.

Collier said more funding is needed, nothing that there are no bills currently being discussed by state lawmakers for the post-secondary level.

However, there are several efforts underway to lobby for that, including what's called a Bill of Opinion which has gained over 4,000 signatures.

"It shows that students really need this, they really want this," Collier said.

JMU officials told Harrisonburg television station WHSV, despite efforts to improve resources over the last few years, they still don't have enough for every student.

"There aren't enough counselors, period. Big city, small town, there aren't enough," Dr. Miller said.

Collier added that along with more funding, the approach has to go beyond just counseling, focusing on how each sector of a university can impact someone's mental health.

"We look at college affordability. When we look at food access, housing insecurity, when we bundle all those things together, we look, how can we implement it and integrate mental health awareness into each individual aspect?" Collier said.

If you or anyone you know thinks they need help with mental health, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or the new three-digit 988.