NJ county colleges tackle post-COVID mental health in new project
The uncertainty of how long the COVID-19 pandemic might drag on, the "new normal" it has foisted upon many aspects of daily life, fear of infection from the virus, and loss of loved ones to it are common experiences and emotions for New Jerseyans by now, and that includes students, faculty, and staff at the 18 community colleges across the Garden State.
To deal directly with their heightened mental health concerns and set students on a brighter path toward a four-year degree or a lasting career, the New Jersey Council of County Colleges' Center for Student Success has launched "The Every Mind Project: Addressing the Mental Health Needs of New Jersey's Community College Students."
Center for Student Success executive director Jacob Farbman said the Mental Health Association in New Jersey, the state Department of Health, and the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education have put their backing behind the effort, funded by the Community Foundation of New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund and a grant awarded to NJDOH through the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
"It is an overwhelming need, and we are delighted that so many partners have stepped up to the table to work with us on this," Farbman said. "This is about addressing a barrier that our students face that may prevent them from getting on, staying on, and completing their paths to their credentials and degrees, which ultimately will lead to economic mobility for our students."
In just three months, Farbman said, more than 500 faculty and staff statewide have been trained, in professional development sessions, to identify and learn how to attempt to alleviate the various signs and symptoms of a mental health crisis.
'These relationships last lifetimes'
These personnel, along with student leaders on campus, are the "frontliners" of community colleges as Farbman put it, and the goal for many is to be able to eventually "train the trainer," as the program looks to build long-term impact.
For the everyday student, might that mean having a designated mentor who can be available to provide guidance even after that student has moved on from this particular phase of their education?
"These relationships last lifetimes, and this is just another component to that," Farbman said. "So the answer to your question simply is: yes, yes, and more yes."
Resource materials available at staffers' fingertips, as well as certain types of campus events, are also planned parts of The Every Mind Project.
'A significant, significant basic needs issue'
State statistics compiled by the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, and cited by the Center for Student Success, show two-thirds (66%) of community college students are concerned about their mental health specifically because of the ongoing pandemic, and even as it has waned, 70% are feeling more stress and anxiety than a year ago.
Farbman feels that if some of those fears can be relieved, higher standards of performance can be set by all.
"This is a significant, significant basic needs issue that, compounded as it has become because of the pandemic, is a student success, academic success issue," he said.