Finding Our Sources of Strength to Build a Healthier Carolina

As an international student from North Dakota who came to Chapel Hill with the intention of majoring in business, I can say with certainty that Carolina is a competitive place. We all have high expectations for ourselves and for the world. We are all good students who have, for the most part, succeeded in our university careers.

For this reason, it is difficult to admit that we are struggling.

Ashlen Wright

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to learn remotely, I really struggled with the transition. In 2020 I took some time off and started tutoring – and really fell in love with teaching kids and helping them with online teaching. When students returned to campus last fall, I changed my major to Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) because of the focus on education and student welfare.

HDFS related to my interest in mental health. In high school, a good friend committed suicide. It had a huge impact on me and showed how important it is to take care of mental health. Soon after, I became involved in a program that offered psychological services to high school students.

I hadn’t even considered exploring education and mental health as part of a major until I found HDFS. The HDFS program also connected me with Professor Dorothy Espelage’s Research on Violence in Education (RAVE) laboratory.

As I pursued this new major and contributed to mental health research through the lab, I observed that more and more of my fellow students struggled to adjust to in-person schooling. Many of my classmates have been exhausted from the financial, health, and academic pressures of COVID-19. It seemed impossible to sustain our past energy and passion for learning in the wake of the pandemic.

In response, students needed more mental health support from the University. A course focused on student well-being and a new group on campus seemed so necessary. Bringing sources of strength to UNC, which the RAVE lab had previously researched, provided a perfect opportunity. Sources of Strength takes a different approach than most mental health programs because it’s peer-focused and strengths-based. The program offers an upstream solution focused on preventing mental health crises on campus. We felt this could provide a much-needed cultural shift around student well-being.

When Dr. Espelage told me about this opportunity, I knew I wanted to be a part of it and lead the new student club. This program provided a space – sponsored and funded by the University – to really talk about mental health with other students. For me, that alone had an impact.

In class, we discussed our personal struggles and our connection to mental health. We also dug into the eight sources of strength – which include mentorship, family, friends, generosity, health pursuits, and more. – with the aim of understanding how each of us can achieve well-being.

Sources of Strength also aims to contribute to the well-being of the community. In addition to taking the course, I run the Sources of Strength club, which works across campus on mental health-related awareness projects. We are working to recruit new members, and my goal right now is to come back stronger in the fall and connect with as many freshmen and sophomores as possible – students who will help this club continue. to thrive.

So what is my hope for all of this – the course, the club, this campus?

I hope this course will be offered next semester and beyond, not just to students in the School of Education, but to all students on campus. I hope the University can add new electives focusing on mental health. I hope the club will continue to raise awareness and support student mental health. I hope we can foster student-led support, so that students don’t rely solely on campus counseling services. I hope the University will continue to support the welfare of its students.

Most importantly, I hope that every student at Carolina, now and in the future, will be healthy and feel whole.

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