LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 8, 2021) — The pandemic has shone a bright light on a stark reality. Mental health concerns are widespread, and access to quality care, or any care at all, is incredibly unequal.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults experience mental illness in the United States. While these statistics show how pervasive these issues are, when taking a closer look, we see which groups are impacted more than others, and upon further inspection we see that certain groups struggle more than others to receive the care that they need and deserve.
This year’s World Mental Health Day (WMHD) highlights this issue. The theme, “Mental Health in an Unequal World,” will enable government leaders, civil society organizations and community members to focus on the issues that perpetuate mental health inequality locally and globally.
At the University of Kentucky, mental health is a top priority. The UK Counseling Center (UKCC), housed in the Office for Student Success, is dedicated to providing students with a number of resources to address their mental health and well-being needs on campus. Through drop-in programs like Let’s Talk, to tailored individual counseling, to UK’s new 24/7 peer-to-peer online community, Togetherall, UK understands that not all students have the same needs when it comes to mental health and strives to ensure that every student has equal access to resources that fits their unique needs.
In honor of World Mental Health Day, UKNow sat down with Corrine Williams, acting associate vice president for student well-being and UK College of Public Health faculty member, to discuss her role at the university, why the mental health of our students is important and how we as a university are working to end the stigma surrounding mental health.
UKNow: Can you explain your role at UK and why it is important to you?
Williams: As the acting associate vice president for student well-being in the Office for Student Success, there are five units in my area: Campus Recreation and Wellness, Counseling Center, Disability Resource Center, Financial Wellness and the Violence Intervention and Prevention (VIP) Center. This is one of the most rewarding roles I’ve had on campus because it allows me to use my public health background to really make a difference in the lives of students — we’re encouraging wellness across a variety of dimensions and are supporting students who may be struggling a bit.
UKNow: How does mental health come in to play in this role?
Williams: Mental health is currently one of the most talked about issues — we know that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of distress for a variety of reasons, through loss, financial instability, etc. Across all areas, we’re having to think about how we support students who may be experiencing challenges with their mental well-being.
UKNow: Why is the mental health of our students important?
Williams: First and foremost, the mental health of our students is important because we care about them and we want to make sure we are helping to support them however we can. We also know that students who are struggling with their mental health may not be able to perform as well academically and may need additional support to stay on track with their degree progression. I always tell my students — as long as you’re engaging with me and keeping me updated, it’s more important to take care of yourself first, and we’ll figure out the academic stuff when they can.
UKNow: What resources do we provide students with concerning their mental health? How has UK, and the Office for Student Success, made mental health and wellness a priority, especially during such turbulent and unprecedented times?
Williams: The UK Counseling Center is one of the key resources on campus that people often think of, but depending on what the underlying issue is, a resource such as one of our coaching initiatives might be more appropriate for helping a student with their problem.
UKNow: This year’s theme for World Mental Health Day is "Mental Health in an Unequal World." What systemic barriers exist for students to receive care and how can we remove those barriers?
Williams: While UK provides lots of great resources, there are still various barriers to accessing them. Some are cultural — students may come from families or communities who believe that talking about mental health challenges is a weakness. We are trying to create opportunities for students to access services in ways that may be more comfortable for them — Let’s Talk, as one example, lets students drop in to talk to a clinician without making an appointment and can get some basic guidance on their problem.
UKNow: How are we working to break the stigma surrounding mental health?
Williams: I think COVID-19 has created some interesting openings to discuss mental health — we’ve acknowledged a collective trauma and, in many ways, that makes it okay for everyone to say that they aren’t doing well and may need help. I’m hopeful that we can carry this energy forward and make sure every member of our community knows that it’s okay to seek help, and we’re here to help.
The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers." We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.