Mental health ENU coming to Wildcat Welcome

Cat Zakrzewski, Reporter

Starting in the fall of 2013, Northwestern will offer orientation programming about mental health services to all incoming students.

The programming will be a part of the Wildcat Welcome Essential NU series, which has addressed topics such as inclusion and alcohol policy. Many students, particularly those from Associated Student Government and the mental health group NU Active Minds, advocated last quarter for the new Mental Health ENU.

Student demand for orientation programming about mental health resources was brought to the spotlight following the death of Weinberg junior Alyssa Weaver, who took her own life in November while studying abroad. However, Patricia Hilkert, director of new student and family programs, said NU Active Minds first approached her about creating a Mental Health ENU soon after she began working at the university last March.

“There does seem to be more stress and pressure here than at other universities I’ve been at,” Hilkert said. “(Active Minds) got it on my radar in the spring as an issue we should be tackling.”

Hilkert said she planned to meet with representatives from NU’s Counseling and Psychological Services and students from NU Active Minds shortly after the completion of the 2012 Wildcat Welcome programming. Their meeting was incidentally scheduled around the time of Weaver’s death as the mental health debate was growing on campus, she said.

“It all kind of happened at the same time,” Hilkert said.

Following the meeting, CAPS executive director John Dunkle assured Hilkert and NU Active Minds that CAPS would fund an ENU addressing mental health. Dunkle confirmed the program will be funded through gifts from donors who do not wish to be named.

“We just have never had the resources to do it before and now we do,” Dunkle said.

Hilkert said that the meeting where the decision was made to create an ENU for Fall Quarter 2013 occurred prior to ASG passing a resolution on mental health last quarter. Dunkle said that while recent events both on campus and in the national news have fueled the debate about mental health resources, many of the improvements being made to mental health at NU are related to a strategic plan that has been in place for almost three years.

Dunkle is also continuing his requests to increase the staff at CAPS, a goal he has been working toward for almost three years. This year he also began a campus coalition on mental health that drew students interested in mental health issues or who have exhibited leadership on campus to gain a comprehensive look at what the mental health needs are at NU. Sixteen students who are involved with ASG, Active Minds, CAPS and several other student groups participate.

Alex Van Atta, who sponsored the ASG resolution on mental health in December, also works on the campus coalition, which met several times during Fall Quarter and has plans to meet during Winter Quarter. He said the group already had a meeting scheduled shortly after mental health issues were debated following Weaver’s death.

“It reaffirmed everyone’s commitment to this,” he said. “We really have to put a lot of resources into making sure students are being provided with the mental health care they need.”

Van Atta said he was very excited about the decision to include an ENU on mental health in Wildcat Welcome.

“I will be interested to see what CAPS can come up with,” he said. “It’s exciting to see people are listening to what students think is important.”