University resources available to support student mental health and wellness

August 25, 2023


Penn State experts share tips, strategies and resources to aid mental health

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As the fall semester begins, Penn State is reminding students of the resources available to support their mental health. 

Natalie Hernandez DePalma, senior director of Penn State Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), and Brett Scofield, CAPS associate director, both note that the number of college students seeking counseling services and mental health services more broadly has increased nationally over the past decade.

“What the data shows us is that some particular areas of distress have increased, such as generalized anxiety and social anxiety,” DePalma said. “But the increase in distress is not necessarily the only reason why demand is rising. Rather, mental health awareness has become a bigger part of the cultural conversation.” 

Scofield, who also is executive director of the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, noted that “more students are feeling comfortable asking for help, and a growing amount of faculty and staff are successfully identifying students with mental health concerns and referring them for services, which is a positive trend.”

Initiatives like the Red Folder, which has been well-received and integrated into training and orientation for new and current faculty and staff, help those who interact with students learn how to “Recognize, Respond and Refer” students for mental health support. The Red Folder Training is available this year on demand for all staff and faculty through the Learning Resource Network. To access the course, log in to the LRN website with your Penn State account and enter “the Red Folder” in the top right search bar.

An important component of the Red Folder and creating a community of care is the concept of “no wrong door” practiced across Penn State, noted DePalma and Scofield. This allows students to obtain information, support and direction from whomever they may approach. While each office can’t fulfill all needs, staff expect and appreciate the opportunity to help a student find the next step and resource in their journey as a student. 

“The important thing to know is that Penn State cares, we are here for you, and we are equipped to support and empower you. Seeking help demonstrates strength and is a sign of self-compassion and care,” said Scofield.  

Helping to care and look out for other Penn Staters, including friends, colleagues and peers, also is an important element of what it means to be part of the Penn State community.  

“If you sense something amiss, say something,” DePalma said. “If you think someone is struggling, check-in with them, ask how they are, or reach out to a trusted source, like CAPS or the Penn State Crisis Line, for guidance.” The Penn State Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day for students and those that care about them to help offer support and direction.

Mental health and wellness tips and strategies 

DePalma and Scofield acknowledged that college can be a uniquely stressful time for many students. But an important thing to understand is that feeling stress in stressful times, or anxious during uncertain times, is a normal and healthy human response to life, especially life transitions. 

“Anxiety is your body’s way of communicating that something is wrong that it wants you to pay attention to,” Scofield said. “In new life circumstances, some anxiety is normal, even healthy. Be patient with yourself as you adjust. It’s when that anxiety exceeds normal levels — if you’re feeling nervous and upset on a regular basis, or if anxiety is interfering with your ability to effectively lead your life — that you should reach out for help.” 

DePalma and Scofield also shared that taking proper care of your body and overall wellness can help contribute to positive mental health. They advise students to continue to move their bodies regularly, get plenty of sleep, enjoy access to the outdoors, eat well-balanced and healthy meals at regular intervals, and avoid consumption of alcohol and drugs. 

“Whatever you may be going through or feeling, let yourself feel it and practice compassionate acceptance of yourself,” DePalma said. “Rather than trying to shut negative feelings down, it’s important to be honest with yourself and the people in your life, especially if you need support. And it’s equally important, for everyone, to keep connected to your important people, to the hobbies and passions that are important to you, and to your own sense of your bigger purpose in the world.” 

Mental health and wellness resources

This health and wellness webpage, maintained by Penn State Student Affairs, details the many wellness and mental health resources available to support and empower Penn State students, including: 

  • Counseling and mental health services available through CAPS, which can be reached at 814-863-0395 for University Park students, or at each Commonwealth Campus location
  • Welltrack Boost, a free app that offers interactive tools for building resilience and managing stress, depression and anxiety with self-help videos, and guidance in determining next steps. 
  • The Penn State Crisis Line (877-229-6400) and the Crisis Text Line (text “LIONS” to 741741), which are open 24/7 to Penn Staters dealing with both crisis and non-crisis situations — including faculty, staff and students at all campuses who have a question about someone else. The licensed professionals with the Penn State Crisis Line can help evaluate each individual situation, offer guidance and help connect callers with further resources if appropriate. 

Additional crisis resources 

For those in immediate crisis, services through CAPS are available without a wait. DePalma and Scofield said a “crisis” can include thoughts of harming oneself or others, loss of housing, a recent death in the family, or any other traumatic event that profoundly and negatively impacts one’s day-to-day life and ability to function. 

To connect with a mental health professional in the event of a crisis: 

  • For immediate or life-threatening emergencies, call 911. 
  • Call CAPS at 814-863-0395 during regular business hours, or connect with the counseling offices available at each of Penn State’s Commonwealth Campuses
  • Call the Penn State Crisis Line — a 24/7 toll-free service staffed by licensed professionals available to all Penn State students, and those concerned about a student, at University Park and Commonwealth Campuses — at 877-229-6400. 
  • Text the 24/7 Crisis Text Line, another 24/7 resource available to all community members, by texting “LIONS” to 741741. 

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