May is Mental Health Month. We’ve seen colleges and universities take a strong stance in advocating for better campus mental health resources. The urgency of this work is clear. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students, and nearly a third of college students, have reported feeling too depressed to function while in school.
This #HighlightWednesday, learn how one campus leader made it her mission to challenge mental health stigma on-and off-campus. Outgoing University of Houston SGA President Winni Zhang is leaving behind a legacy filled with service and advocacy, spending much of her time improving the university’s counseling and treatment offerings.
During her time as SGA President, Winni ran with a platform of bringing “big reforms” to existing mental health resources on campus. At the time of her election, students reported experiencing a 4-6 week waiting period whenever they attempted to meet with a certified clinical expert at the university's Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).
Feeling students deserved better, Winni decided to write a bill declaring the university in a state of a mental health crisis. What happened next changed the course of campus health and student government responsiveness, as the bill created the space for four new counselors to join the staff in a $430,000 commitment.
Winni also worked with her Provost to add a section about mental health resources on every course syllabi to meet the needs over 80% of college students who felt overwhelmed by all they had to do while in school.
Her quest to continue raising awareness to combat mental health stigma reached an all-time high with the expansion of the “End the Stigma” campaign, collecting 1,100 shirts from different departments, organizations, student donation drives and laying them out on the campus.
“The 1,100 shirts represented the 1,100 students around the nation who die by suicide each year. It was one of the most visible events at the University and it began healthy dialogues on our campus about mental health. That year, CAPS noticed a 32% increase in student usage,” said Zhang.
Prior to becoming president, Winni served as her SGA’s deputy chief of staff and helped implement new procedures for CAPS, including a new “back door” policy that protected students’ privacy in emergency situations and a walk-in consultation service for immediate care. She also pushed the Student Fees Advisory Committee to approve an increased funding to CAPS that would inevitably raise starting salaries and lead to more staff hires.
Winni’s effort to help University of Houston students lead healthier, fuller lives is something that we can all strive to do in our communities.
You can hear more about Winni’s work at this year’s Presidential Leadership Summit as she leads the discussion on mental health treatment on college campuses. Join Winni and fellow student body presidents who will discuss ways to improve campus offerings in mental health services by registering at pls18.org!
American College Health Association. American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II: Reference Group Executive Summary Spring 2013. Linthicum, MD: American College Health Association; 2013
Photo provided courtesy of Winni Zhang