According to Sally Spencer-Thomas ’89, half of college students have thought of suicide and one in four are currently struggling with a major issue.

Spencer-Thomas delivered a talk last Wednesday night highlighting the prevalence of mental health issues on college campuses. Spencer-Thomas is the CEO and founder of the Carson J. Spencer Foundation, an organization that aims to prevent suicide, raise awareness about mental health and support those affected by these issues.

“Just assume when you’re walking around that everybody around you has some big burden that they’re carrying because you’ll interact with them differently,” Spencer-Thomas said in an interview with the Orient.

According to information from Counseling Services, over the past five years, the number of students seen by a counselor at Bowdoin has increased from 426 in the 2011-2012 academic year to 480 in 2014-2015. There has been a 37 percent increase in students counselled and a 53 percent increase in the number of counseling sessions provided at Bowdoin since 2005-2006.

“[The number of] students who see a psychiatrist is going down and more students are seeing counsellors. I think, by that, many students are not seeing the need for medication as much as before,” said Dr. Bernie Hershberger, director of counselling services and wellness programs.

Spencer-Thomas echoed Hershberger’s thoughts. “Not everybody needs heavy duty treatments, not everybody needs to be hospitalized. Most people just need someone to talk to or just a place to land because they’re having a really bad day. Friends and peers can certainly fill that when they have the skills.” she said.  

In an effort to make help more accessible, Counseling Services has considered starting a program to train community members on how to best support students in need.

“I’m thinking about trying to start this training program called Mental Health First Aid,” said Hershberger. “[This would be] an eight hour training that anybody on campus could take.”

The program would aim to train various members of the community who interact with students on a day-to-day basis.  

“Several times people in housekeeping have been influential in helping students get into counselling because they actually have conversations in the morning,” said Hershberger.

The counselling service already has multiple wellness programs to reduce anxiety, such as mindfulness groups, yoga classes, meditation and tai chi.

“A lot of the practices of mindfulness that we are trying to teach students is really trying to move into the present moment and find a level of aliveness or joy there.” said Hershberger.  

During her visit, Spencer-Thomas met with student groups and Counseling Services.

“[Spencer-Thomas] is like a dream come true for a counseling center because somebody from outside is coming in and explaining what’s important about [our work],” Hershberger said.

Spencer-Thomas’ talk on Wednesday focused on suicide prevention, the stigma of shame surrounding mental health and her personal experience with the suicide of her brother, Carson J. Spencer ’93.

Spencer-Thomas ended her talk with a symbolic demonstration in the dark, asking people to shine their phone light if they have been affected by suicide or depression or want to help out. The room lit up.