Connections

FEATURE

Paving a Road to Wellness

Informed by national trends and community partnerships, diverse initiatives are expanding on Nazareth’s cohesive approach to campus health.

by Erich Van Dussen

illustration of wellness activities

For someone returning to the Nazareth campus after years away, obvious examples are always evident of the college’s ever-evolving landscape—from new buildings, roadways, and parking areas to innovative academic programs and leading-edge intradepartmental initiatives.

At the same time, a subtler but no less influential shift is also taking place: a campus-wide embrace of healthy practices that aims to complement the College’s academic rigor with a multifaceted environment of wellness. Aligned with national trends, these distinct steps share a common goal to improve the bodies, minds and spirits of current and future Nazareth students and the community at large.

“Wellness is holistic, encompassing the physical, emotional, cognitive, spiritual, economic, social, and vocational senses of wellbeing,” says Brigid Noonan, Ph.D., dean of the School of Health and Human Services. “Here at Nazareth, the concepts of improved health and wellness are integrated throughout our campus community—not only for students to embrace those concepts for themselves, but as a way of improving the lives, and the quality of life, of those who may not have access to quality health services.

“If we don’t focus on the health and wellness of our community, we won’t have a community!” she adds.

Some already-existent examples of this all-encompassing approach to wellness include brick-and-mortar entities like the College’s York Wellness and Rehabilitation Institute; Nazareth’s array of clinical academic programs that emphasize hands-on learning and multidisciplinary healthcare modalities; and even interprofessional education and collaboration strategies that connect students to a broad range of concrete opportunities for healthcare career exploration.

Against that established backdrop, Dr. Noonan says, an assortment of new developments is right at home: “Our new efforts take different forms, but all reflect Nazareth’s commitment not only to educate students, but to prepare them for healthy, successful lives.”

Sound Minds, Sound Bodies

In addition to the TV, magazines, and other waiting-room mainstays at the Health and Counseling Services building, visitors can try “Zen gardening”—using a tiny wooden rake to arrange white sand in a petite wooden tray. Zen gardens are popular novelty items associated with stress relief and meditation—and the presence of one in this area is more than symbolic.

In 2017, more than 700 Nazareth students participated in the National College Health Assessment, a wide-ranging survey conducted by the American College Health Association to explore physical and mental health issues. “It was staggering, how many students indicated instances of feeling hopeless, lonely, and anxious,” says Susan Quinn, F.N.P., director of Health and Counseling. About 7% of respondents disclosed that they had previously experienced suicidal thoughts; 1.2% said they had attempted suicide.

Those numbers meet national benchmarks, Quinn notes, “and in some ways our student population is doing much better than other campuses. But it really confirmed that we’ve been on the right track in terms of making help more available.”

Steps taken to increase access have included expanded clinic hours and walk-in appointments to provide assistance for students reporting anxiety, depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other mental health concerns. The team is also exploring the addition of more counselors, though they know that step alone won’t solve the bigger issue of helping as many students as they can.

To that end, Quinn and her staff offer innovative forms of student engagement to complement tradition counseling: discussion groups on mindfulness or ADHD, for instance, and a popular Anxiety 101 class that helps students identify and develop coping mechanisms for that all-too-common condition. “We’re being creative,” she said of the varied approaches, all of which are inspired by evidence-based support models.

The elevated demand for counseling services at Nazareth and colleges around the country is attributable to a number of factors, Quinn says—not least of which is that people are now simply more likely to recognize their symptoms and seek out support. “There’s always a stigma when you’re talking about mental illness, but it’s less than it used to be,” she says. “We’ve had a lot of success in normalizing services while increasing access, so students don’t feel as nervous about coming in.”

Other new contributory factors include sleep deprivation (“It’s much more common than you might expect,” Quinn says) and the physiological effects of screen addiction—spending too much time staring at smart phones, tablets and computer screens. By understanding and addressing the natural intersections between physical and mental conditions, the Health and Counseling team is providing integrated care that raises the bar on student wellness.

Butt Out

Nazareth’s new era as a tobacco-free campus began in August 2017. While smoking has been prohibited in college buildings for years, the new campus-wide ban requires students, faculty, staff, and visitors to take the use of all forms of tobacco—even e-cigarettes—off college grounds.

Movement toward this decision began prior to Noonan joining Nazareth in 2016, but not much progress had been made up to that point. “It needed to happen in its own time—we’re talking about a legal behavior, after all, and this can be seen as infringing on individuals’ rights,” she says. “But by the time I arrived, there was more of a consensus that, between the evolving culture and the obvious health benefits, it was a decision whose time had come.”

An increasing number of colleges and universities are going tobacco-free, Noonan says, and the task force she formed to implement the Nazareth policy reached out to representatives of different schools around the country to hear about best practices and things to avoid. Nazareth’s internal constituencies were heard from as well, and the American Cancer Society provided advice and resources to ensure that smokers who now wanted to quit would have the support they needed.

“It was important that people understand that we weren’t trying to tell them what to do—just asking them not to do it on this campus,” she adds. “It’s preventative in nature, not punitive. And so far, it’s been quite successful—not perfect, but a noticeable improvement.”

The Road Ahead

According to Nazareth’s National College Health Assessment, only 51 percent of the campus population meet national guidelines for healthy exercise levels—an unsurprising figure, given America’s views on healthy living, but still ripe for improvement.

Enter the Golisano Training Center (GTC), funded largely by a $7.5 million gift from The Golisano Foundation and currently in the design stages. When its doors open on campus late next year, the 125,000-square-foot Center will support fitness and wellness for students, as well as the region’s Special Olympics programs that already have begun to partner with the College. “It’s a relationship we really want to build on, while also bringing more opportunities for our own students,” Dr. Noonan says.

Whether you’re a Special Olympian from the community or a sophomore math major, the GTC will improve access to health screenings, coaching/mentoring opportunities and wellness programs developed in collaboration with the York Wellness and Rehabilitation Institute.

That integration with other college resources—in clinical appointments in the York building, the classes and outreach efforts emanating from the Health and Counseling Center, and even the newfound lack of secondhand smoke around campus—supports the view of wellness as a unifying long-term goal for students. “We want them to incorporate that holistic nature of wellness into their lives, to practice it not only in the few years they will be here with us, but every day,” Noonan says. “That’s an important part of a transformative educational experience.”


Erich Van Dussen is a Rochester-based freelance writer.

Fly-Through

    Golisano Training Center
    GTC rendering

    Artist’s rendering of the Golisano Training Center (GTC)