We have finally made it through 2020 and are anxious to start fresh with a new year that, I hope, feels very different than the last. Yet, as I write this message, the landscape of our nation and the circumstances of the global pandemic don’t seem to be easing. The stress, worry and uncertainty that permeated 2020 mentally and emotionally fatigued many, bringing to light an uptick in mental-health issues and the shortcomings in recognizing and understanding them. Right at a year ago, when Berea’s Task Force on Trauma and Resilience released its findings and recommendations, the idea formed to focus this issue of the Berea College Magazine on mental and emotional health. Today, the topic couldn’t be more timely. As you can read in the other Winter 2021 articles, mental health among college students is on the decline nationally. And since the COVID-19 pandemic, the issues have only become more pronounced. A report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in August 2020 about the pandemic’s effect on mental health identified that about one-quarter of surveyed 18 to 24 year olds had “seriously considered suicide” in the past 30 days. A separate study by the Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) consortium found the rate of major depressive disorder among graduate and professional students is two times higher compared to 2019.
Because of the population Berea College serves, many of our students tend to fall into high-risk categories for dealing with mental and emotional health issues. Interviewing our professional therapists for the profile on Counseling Services was incredibly eye-opening to me. I was unfamiliar with the effects of trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), but being a Berea graduate, I keenly understand the background and challenges many of our students have faced. My childhood was thwarted by parental substance abuse and divorce.
My mother unsuccessfully attempted to take her life. I was homeless for a month in high school, sleeping in a dingy motel while my mom worked nights and searched for a house during the day. These ACEs dictate the lens through which our minds and bodies react to just about everything. The article Tackling Trauma Together delves more deeply into ACEs and their effects.
But what I am most excited about in this issue are the stories of resilience shared by four of our students. Though just a sampling of the human experience, these young people have dealt with difficulty, stress and pain and yet have risen. They have sought out resources and relationships to counteract their hardships, and they are learning to thrive. Berea met them where they were, and will help them navigate their way to completing their degrees and living full lives.
Abbie Tanyhill Darst ’03