ETTRICK, Va. -- Virginia State University (VSU) has taken a proactive approach to mental health at the HBCU campus not only for students but faculty and staff as well.
The university has invested in mental health counselors and created a wellness team.
On Monday, the team spent its day promoting good mental health practices.
“I’m very proud of what Virginia State University is doing on campus, this really opens the door to talk more about mental health," VSU Counseling Center director Joanna Ajexpalvannan said.
Hundreds of VSU students, faculty, and staff walked the campus on Monday morning to show it was okay to talk about mental health and that there was no stigma in asking for help.
“It feels like people are more open to talking about it because we were all in it together during COVID," Ajexpalvannan said.
Minutes before the walk began, a pep rally of sorts was held in front of Foster Hall.
“If you ever need to ask for help, don’t be scared, even though it feels uncomfortable," VSU Freshman Catelynn Ebuchulam told the crowd.
Ebuchulam spoke from experience. She sought help after feeling overwhelmed at school.
After the death of her uncle, Arrioynna Allen decided to ask for help.
“I realized I wasn’t OK, figuring everything out by myself and that I need resources and help," Allen said. “It helped me completely, I’m saying that honestly and wholeheartedly. Talking to Robin in Memorial Hall saved me, it helped me get through this death."
VSU officials said this walk was designed to raise awareness and promote good mental health practices.
“We are here as a sounding board," Ajexpalvannan said. "We are here to support them in finding answers for themselves, that’s really what counseling is about."
Dr. Cynthia Ellison, Executive Director of Trojan Health and Wellness, said VSU wasn't just focused on the mental health of students.
“Our faculty and staff are connected to the wellness of our students, you cannot separate them, they go together," she said.
Ellison said faculty and staff have spoken out about their mental health needs and she said all faculty and staff have mental health services available.
Ellison said in 2019, there was a 60% increase in the number of VSU students asking for mental health care. A number, she said, that has stayed consistent.