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In a day away from the classroom, NC State students do hard work on wellness

There were no classes, assignments or exams at North Carolina State University on Thursday. Instead, students were encouraged to take a break, focus on their health or participate in free activities, including yoga classes, coloring, crafts, a guided walk, climbing, tea time, video games and more.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — There were discussions of mental health, relaxation areas and even animal therapy on the campus of North Carolina State University Thursday. Students told WRAL News that the Wellness Day was a good first step to help students face the problems they are dealing with, but some were skeptical about the long-term impact.

There were no classes, assignments or exams Thursday. Instead, students were encouraged to take a break, focus on their health or participate in free activities, including yoga classes, coloring, crafts, a guided walk, climbing, tea time, video games and more.

At UNC Chapel Hill, students received two "well being" days this semester following a series of suicides last fall. NC State Students said they've been asking for the day in light of three known suicides on campus so far this calendar year, as well as to combat the stressors of adjusting to campus life.

Sophomore Tony Kelly said he saw the aftermath of one of the suicides right outside where he lives.

“Students are certainly under a lot of stress," Kelly said.

“To say, 'Hey, I need help, I am not doing well, is very difficult,” he added.

In addition to the expected pressures of exams and assignments, students face the upheaval and isolation they experienced during the pandemic and the harms of social media.

“Every place on the internet talks about how you should be better or should succeed more," said junior Jaden Jenkins.

A day to pause from pressure

The Wellness Day offered a pause.

"I think it is a good thing," said sophomore Emma Scardina. "I think the school is doing what they can to try to help students.”
But Scardina thinks there are big issues that are difficult for a school to fix.

Some students say they want the school to share more about student suicides. School officials say they inform people close to a student who has died, but they do not send out a campus-wide alert.

Faculty and staff participated in the Wellness Day.

In fact, the NCSU department head of electrical engineering department sent out an email to staff members on Thursday, reminding them that they aren't alone and to assess how they and their coworkers are doing.

"Sometimes reaching out to a friend can be critical in helping someone see beyond the dark tunnel that seems to surround them," the email to faculty said.

NC State offers mental health support resources

"Students are interested in mental health and they are interested in helping support one another," says Monica Osburn, with N.C. State Counseling Center & Prevention Services.

Osburn oversees the Counseling Center on campus. She says students can seek support there and online, 24 hours, 7 days a week.

The university’s #StopTheStigma campaign aims to raise awareness about mental health – and to highlight resources for students who feel more comfortable opening up with their peers.

"We have a mental health ambassadors program where we actually have students helping students learn the signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression," Osborn said.

Student suicides a plague across the country

From across the country to North Carolina – colleges and universities are grappling with a mental health crisis.

In 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for young people North Carolina ages 10-18 and the third leading cause of death for those ages 19-34, according to the NC State Center for Health Statistics.

Hearing about the death of fellow classmates at N.C. State hits hard for student Delaney Engel.

"It’s really sad. It’s something that shouldn’t be happening," she says.

As a first-year student, Engel admits the adjustment to campus life isn’t easy.

"Coming in and adjusting to everything. A lot of people don't know the resources available to them," she says.

Amy Kennedy, co-founder of Kennedy Forum, a mental health advocacy group, says colleges and universities should focus on making mental health resources, like screenings for anxiety and depression, readily available.

"People are struggling with social isolation, anxiety, trouble concentrating," she says. "Screening is going to be key, yes being aware of things like wellness days, being able to provide access on campus."

UNC Chapel Hill launched a Suicide Prevention Institute this year, following a series of suicides on campus last fall. Students at NC State say they've been wanting to see their school also be proactive about mental health, rather than reactive.

Don’t be afraid to reach out because there really are people that want to help," says Engel.


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