The University chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI on Campus at UVA, has launched a petition calling for better mental health education and improved mental health resource allocation at the University. The petition calls for three primary changes to promote mental health education on Grounds, including the implementation of educational programs, increased funding for mental health resources and an initiative to coordinate mental health efforts at the University.
The petition organizers are currently collecting signatures from both student organizations and individual students and are aiming to collect between 300 and 400 individual signatures total. So far, approximately 150 students have signed the petition. Student Council and the University Judiciary Committee are among the 39 organizations that have signed the petition. NAMI organizers plan to submit the petition to the Board of Visitors, University President Ryan and Provost Liz Magill for consideration when they reach their target goal.
The idea for the petition began this summer, according to Wendy Wang, NAMI on Campus at UVA President and third-year Commerce student. The petition is emblematic of the organization’s core values and part of its collective efforts to promote mental health advocacy on Grounds, Wang said.
“One key thing underneath everything else is that mental health is extremely personal,” Wang said. “I believe if you ask a hundred people who believe this is important, they will give you a hundred different reasons why and and a hundred different ways to change how things operate on Grounds.”
In its petition and other efforts, Wang said the organization has to be inclusive of a wide variety of calls for change.
The petition notes the high rates of mental health crises and conditions among this generation of college students and points out a corresponding increase in University students’ use of Counseling and Psychological Services in recent years. It also highlights the influence of racism and white supremacy at the University in affecting mental health.
“Our long and complicated history of white supremacy and racism only adds to the identity struggle that we face both as individuals and as a community, creating more stress and more reason for change,” the petition states.
One of the primary goals in writing the petition was to advocate specifically for better mental resources to incoming first-year students at the University, Wang said. NAMI on Campus at UVA is planning to reach out to first-year students by advertising resources in first-year dorms. In the petition, NAMI organizers also address the difficulties incoming students at the University face.
“With the added stress of a new environment and new faces, many—especially those of underrepresented backgrounds—struggle upon entering University,” it states.
“One of the things that we think is probably easiest for the University to achieve is to put in more resources about training first-years before they come onto Grounds about mental health and mental health awareness,” Wang said.
Mandating a training module similar to the Not On Our Grounds and Alcohol-Wise modules that students are required to complete before coming to the University would allow new students to better connect with mental health resources, Wang said. More generally, students of all years can participate in supporting mental health efforts on Grounds in a variety of ways.
“As for the petition, we would love for any students interested and supportive of it to sign,” Wang said. “I understand that some people will be hesitant to sign because it can make people feel like, am I saying something about my personal mental health status? I always tell them no…it’s just something to show that you care and want to show your concern and try to make the issue known.”
More generally, students can support mental health awareness by educating themselves through online resources like the NAMI national chapter website and simply supporting friends.
“In general, just be mindful, be supportive,” Wang said. “A good social network is usually the most important effective method of preventing a lot of acute symptoms of mental health illnesses.”
Jackson Samples, a fourth-year College student and president of the University Democrats, signed the petition because “it sheds light on an issue that demands increased attention here at U.Va. and across the country.”
“The progressive goals of destigmatizing mental health issues, increasing the accessibility and affordability of care and educating people about the nuances of mental health — all outlined in the petition — are necessary in order to build a healthier, more supportive community,” he said. “We hope this statement garners the attention of the administration so that the requisite policy changes can be made."
According to University spokesperson Wes Hester, University officials have not received the petition yet. CAPS did not respond to a request for comment.