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The Westfield Voice

The Westfield Voice

Breaking the Silence: Mental Health Initiatives Flourish on Westfield State University’s Campus

Dan Meyers
Three white posters on a chain-link fence reading, “Don’t give up”, “You are not alone”, and “You matter.”

Amidst the bustling atmosphere of Westfield State University, a growing focus on mental health has taken center stage as programs like Pet Therapy and Westfield State’s Counseling Center aim to offer support and resources for everyone to foster a healthier and more supportive environment for mental well-being. One of the ways the university helps students is through its own Counseling Department. 

“We provide mental health and substance misuse counseling – one-on-one and group – to full-time undergraduate day students,” says Brian Cahillane, Director of the Counseling Center. It has been open since 1995, and the focus of this department has become even more critical now than ever.

Throughout the 2020-2021 school year, around 60% of college students met the criteria for at least one mental health problem, according to the Healthy Minds Study, which surveys 373 campuses nationwide. Even before the pandemic, activities such as pet therapy were essential for students to de-stress. 

Leslie Pirnie, Director of the Pet Therapy Program, has heard nothing but positive comments about her program’s initiative. “We hear so much from the students, just about how much they appreciate just sitting with the dogs and relaxing for a few minutes,” says Pirnie. She also says Pet Therapy is open to everyone, not just students. “We’ve even had staff occasionally stop by and pet the dogs.”

The purpose of Pet Therapy is for the students to interact and pet the dogs out on the main campus green a couple of times a month. One student who enjoys this unique type of therapy is Bryce, a current sophomore at WSU. He says his favorite dog is Mindy, a Maltese Terrier.

Like all other dogs in the program, Mindy has a massive part in serving the campus community. “I would always go there, and she would sit all proper as I’d pet her, and then me and her owner would just have a conversation the whole time, so I was able to get both human and animal interaction,” says Bryce. In other words, he says, it was “the best of both worlds.”

Although Pet Therapy is one of the ways to get involved in helping others, Cahillane says there are numerous other activities to join that the Counseling Center puts on regularly. “We offer stress reduction workshops and one-on-one coaching in different stress reduction areas.”

The department also offers many other services, such as nutrition counseling, private room booking for telehealth with off-campus therapists, and massage therapy, which is coming soon.

The list goes on and on for what Cahillane and his dedicated team have to offer to students, but you might be wondering: Where do I get started? “Call 413-572-5790 or email [email protected] or stop by our offices in Lammers Hall,” says Cahillane.

He offers this advice for how we can all help with the topic of depression and mental health: “Be kind to each other, give people the benefit of the doubt. If you see someone struggling, give them your time, but also lead them to get professional help if needed.” 

As the conversation surrounding mental health on college campuses continues to gain momentum, it’s evident that proactive measures and open dialogues are essential for fostering supportive environments. With increased awareness, accessible resources, and a collective commitment to destigmatize mental health challenges, universities can become hubs of student empowerment and integrated well-being.

By prioritizing mental health, institutions pave the way for a future where every student feels supported, understood, and capable of thriving academically and personally.

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