WINONA — An ounce of prevention isn't just a worth a pound of cure; it can be a lot of fun as well.
Kate Noelke, Winona State University's director of Integrated Wellness, wants students across the state to not just have access to counseling services, but to find ways to take proactive steps against the triggers that can lead to mental health concerns.
"We want to make sure they have access to more than just clinical mental health care," Noelke said. "We want to work with student groups for a campaign to get out and do something for themselves."
Noelke, who has been named a Chancellor’s Fellow by the Minnesota State System, has a mission of developing a systemwide program to support students’ mental wellness across 37 Minnesota State colleges and universities. The goal is to create an adaptable template in which colleges will share resources for students about social belonging while reducing negative stigmas about mental health.
Noelke said 90 percent of mental health occur before an incident that others would recognize as a call for help. Often that 90 percent is mired in things such as loneliness, a lack of purpose, feeling marginalized or discriminated against -- factors that can lead a person to feeling cut off from the community around them.
"Getting counseling is great," Noelke said. "But we want students to stay well between their appointments."
The idea, she said, is to find ways to connect students to their communities either though music and the arts, volunteer opportunities, and recreational options.
Right now, Noelke said, she's collecting data to help her determine what mental health triggers are common, and which groups of students might face particularly difficult challenges on campuses. This data collection has included talking to campus leaders across the state, frontline workers, and content experts who can help develop solutions.
Next, Noelke will gather a group of experts to start building a toolkit of resources systemwide that each college or university can use to build its own foundation of support. Then, finally, she will develop a template that each campus can adapt.
"Our end hope is that this creates much needed tools and infrastructure for this very important work," said Paul Shepherd, the Minnesota State’s System Director for Student Development and Success. "We really want to build tools that can advance mental health at every college and university."
The plan is to have the template ready this fall so it can be individualized for each campus in the state and then tweaked to make communication more efficient and effective, Noelke said.
Noelke said while she will develop a template, each campus will need to adapt it to how students access information.
"It doesn't make sense to use a bulletin board on a commuter campus or at a two-year community college," she said.
In fact, a common way to connect might be via a student-wide texting option on campuses.
The more difficult requirement, she said, will be finding a champion on each campus who will round up information on activities and then be responsible for broadcasting that information to students so they are aware of activities that can help them feel that community connection.
"We're looking at how a campus can help you get out and make a connection," Noelke said. "We want to get people out and doing. That can work as a preventative for mental health care."
While the program does not have any funding, Noelke said the Legislature is looking at a pair of bills that would fund some mental health initiatives on campuses.
"If state funding comes through," she said, "that'll be a different conversation. "