SHU receives mental health initiatives grant

FAIRFIELD—The Connecticut Office of Higher Education (OHE) has awarded Sacred Heart University a $96,255 grant as part of the state’s higher education mental health services initiative.

Governor Ned Lamont allocated $3 million to the OHE to pay for student mental health services at public and private colleges and universities. The funds are meant to enable institutions to enhance prevention, early intervention and access to care for students struggling with mental health issues.

James Geisler, executive director of wellness services at SHU, said the grant will support on-campus efforts led by Karen Flanagan, director of prevention, education and early intervention. It also will support programs run by the student wellness education and empowerment team (s.w.e.e.t.), which  oversees several mental health wellness initiatives, including Project Connect and the Bandana Project.

Project Connect is an evidence-based program that builds connections and community to combat loneliness and isolation. The Bandana Project is a national suicide prevention campaign under the auspices of the nonprofit organization Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.

“You may have begun to see a sea of backpacks with green bandanas. This is a visual representation of the culture of wellness we are enhancing here on campus,” said Geisler. In addition, SHU’s counseling center has been working with the University’s multicultural center and community partners to fill gaps in mental health clinical services.

Geisler said the goal is to increase staff and faculty knowledge about mental health and to teach them the skills they will need to respond when they identify a student in distress. Geisler also hopes wellness initiatives embedded in Sacred Heart’s campus will normalize conversations about mental health and destigmatize the issue.

“When we see students live and breathe the wellness initiatives, it makes us feel fulfilled,” said Geisler. “We create a thriving culture through this work, giving us motivation to enhance our efforts and fine-tune our resources to continue keeping up with what students need.”