Volunteer Weekend 2017 – Work Session Summaries

Mental Health and Wellness

with Jen Jacobsen '95, assistant dean of students and director of wellness and prevention

Jacobsen led a spirited discussion about Grinnell College students’ sleeping habits, alcohol use, marijuana use and sexual activity. She also included information about perceptions and social norms in those area.

The talk was data heavy, with statistics coming from four places:

  • ACHA National College Health Assessment (Conducted spring 2015)
  • Survey of Grinnell College Student-Athlete Norms (October 2016)
  • EverFi Alcohol.edu (fall 2017)
  • Grinnell College Sexual Climate Survey (spring 2015)

At Grinnell – and across academia – there is an upward trend of students’ stress, anxiety, sleep problems and depression (or some combination thereof) interfering with academics. This could mean a lower test grade, dropping a class or withdrawing from school.

Sleep enhances academic, athletic, physical and social well-being. Students should get 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night; Grinnell students report an average of 6.86 hours of sleep. This is one area where social norms can be a problem. Jacobsen used the example of a busy student telling a fellow student she gets 5 hours of sleep. The friend responds she only gets 4 hours of sleep.

About 37 percent of students have never studied all night, but they think others do. A survey question posed about whether fellow students pull all-nighters resulted in only 4 percent saying students would never do so. This is true in other ways. Students think their classmates drink more and have more sexual partners than they actually do.

A lack of sleep can correlate to increased anxiety and depression. Furthermore, Iowa is last in the nation in the number of mental health treatment options. The college is taking several steps in addressing mental health concerns.

A Student Mental Health Task Force is meeting regularly. Some alumni serve on the task force. In addition, doctoral interns from the University of Iowa are available for teleconferences about mental health issues through the Student Health and Counseling Services, commonly known as SHACS. Suicide prevention training is provided for student leaders and student-athletes. Faculty, staff and students are given information about how to refer students for help. Wellness is addressed at student orientation. The survey details are shared with students to combat false perceptions.

In 2015, about 35 percent of Grinnell College students surveyed said they felt lonely in the past two weeks. That percentage is a bit higher than other colleges. One of the reasons that students withdraw from Grinnell is a lack of belonging.

As for drinking, about 44 percent of incoming students said they had never drank before coming to Grinnell. That number of abstainers slightly decreased to 38 percent by fall break of the first year. The percent of binge drinkers rose 12 percent. The average number of drinks a student consumes in one night is 3.79.

While they might not admit this out loud, 47 percent of students on an anonymous survey would prefer less alcohol at Grinnell College. The same is true for marijuana. About 50 percent of students would prefer less of it on campus.

Grinnell College does offer substance-free housing, such as Norris Hall. But that doesn’t mean those students avoid substances. About 72 residents of Norris Hall consumed alcohol during their first year of college.