College is pressure cooker for many young adults, a time when they face isolation, depression, anxiety and other mental health and wellness challenges.

Hillel at Arizona State University works to provide Jewish students with a home away from home that helps strengthen their faith — as well as offer a place where they can decompress.

Now, Hillel at ASU is hoping to do more as it waits for word on whether it has received a grant under Hillel International’s new initiative, HillelWell, to meet the growing need for mental health support on college campuses.

Hillel at ASU has long been attentive to the mental wellness of its students, with its staff participating in extensive training to build one-on-one relationships with students through the various programs it offers, said Debbie Yunker Kail, executive director of Hillel at ASU.

“Part of this training does include looking for signs of student stress and distress,” she said. “This includes certain questions a staff member can ask a student and includes making sure staff are well aware of campus resources available to students. We are very comfortable helping students navigate the support resources ASU has in place.”

With initial support through a $1 million gift from Stephen J. Cloobeck, founder of Diamond Resorts International, HillelWell will provide resources and training to campus professionals to better prepare them to serve college students — regardless of religious affiliation — in dealing with increasing rates of depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns.

If Hillel at ASU gets a grant from the HillelWell program, it would like to start off by expanding a recently created mindfulness program.

“We have goals to bring in speakers from both the Jewish perspective and to utilize ASU’s resources, such as the Mindfulness Center, to supplement what we are teaching,” said Hillel at ASU Jewish Student Life Coordinator Madeline Dolgin. “The grant would also pair us with a Hillel International staff for support, as well as an outside partner from health and wellness to work one-on-one with our campus in expanding this initiative to cover more than just mindfulness, but wellness as a whole.”

In recent years, Hillel professionals on college campuses have identified stress and anxiety, as well as other mental health challenges, as being among their greatest concerns for Jewish and non-Jewish college students.

Research shows that one in three college freshmen will report a mental health disorder, and one in 12 college students will make a suicide plan. But experts also note that these statistics may underrepresent the issue, as lack of resources, stigma and fear leave many students to suffer alone.

Yunker Kail and her team also keep an eye out for students with mental health issues that may require more than Hillel at ASU can offer, in which case they know they can direct them to more appropriate supports.

“We can help students navigate the support resources that ASU offers,” she said. “We work with and refer students to Counseling Services, the Disability Resource Center and to the dean’s office, where students can get additional help with additional support and accommodations they may need.”

HillelWell will address the mental health and wellness crisis on campus by:

Launching a HillelWell lab with five to seven campus participants that will each pilot an innovative wellness initiative.

Providing in-person and online training for at least 400 Hillel professionals during the 2018-2019 school year.

Developing resource guides for campus professionals to create their own wellness strategies.

“I find that Hillel International sends out information around challenging situations that might arise with students,” Dolgin said. “These resources keep moving us toward understanding how to deal with common situations, but I’m also learning through a case-by-case basis as they arise.

“We’ve clearly created a safe environment for our students, as many of them come to us first as a resource when they are feeling overwhelmed, working through health challenges and in need of relationship advice.” JN

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “help” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

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