In February 2022, Indiana University announced the university’s new Student Mental Health Initiative led by Dr. Aaron Carroll, IU’s Chief Health Officer. It consists of three taskforces: culture and climate, services and support, and policies and protocols. These taskforces consist of several recommendations and actions to improve students’ mental health across all of IU’s campuses in Indiana.
One of the recommendations regards integrating conversations about mental health issues and resources in student organizations. IU’s October First Thursdays event saw a booth with the Office of the Chief Health Officer to promote these types of conversations.
Dr. Carroll was at the booth and had an in-person Ask Aaron, where individuals present had the ability to speak with Dr. Carroll about the topic of mental health and any mental health issues.
Being involved in the First Thursday event is part of raising awareness of mental health and would fall under the taskforce of culture and climate, Dr. Carroll said.
“Trying to bring discussions of mental health into a lot of other activities that we’re already otherwise engaging in so that it becomes part of the conversation,” Dr. Carroll said.
He said the Office of the Chief Health Officer is now actively engaged in working on these taskforces. This included taking steps to improve culture and climate, raise awareness and reduce stigma, as well as improve services and support by looking into a telehealth option for students.
Theresa Vernon, program manager of the Office of the Chief Health Officer was also present at the First Thursdays booth and said hundreds of students stopped by the booth.
“We knew we would make a big impact there,” Vernon said.
The booth promoted the launch of the new student mental health branding campaign, Unbox, to encourage students to open up and “unbox” their emotions, as well as the launch of IU’s new mental health website, Vernon said.
“IU has always had mental health resources, but we’ve revamped the website to make it much more searchable and take in a more holistic approach,” Vernon said.
They aim to have an omnipresent campaign to help students prioritize their mental health, as well as normalize speaking about mental health issues and integrate it into existing events, she said.
“We want to encourage students to treat mental health as they do their overall health,” Vernon said.
This initiative is the Office of the Chief Health Officer’s primary focus, and the university is providing resources to ensure the initiative’s plans will follow through, she said.
Ed Dallis-Comentale, director of the Art and Humanities Council partnered with the Office of the Chief Health Officer, said he is very committed to the new health initiative, as well as committed to ensuring that arts and culture are included in the initiative.
“I think it’s very important for students, but really everyone to be able to express themselves and use different artistic practices to express themselves. Whether that’s writing, or painting, or dance, or music,” Comentale said.
There are multiple different types of wellnesses, though creative wellness is important to someone’s self-expression and self-identity, he said.
“I think that practicing an art, no matter which art it is, and no matter how badly or perfectly it is, is really important to one's sense of self and their place in their world,” Comentale said.
One of the arts and humanities council’s goals is to understand how arts and humanities can help with health sciences and health practices at IU. The First Thursdays event was an opportunity for them to advance the interdisciplinary work of health and the arts and humanities, Comentale said.