On-campus wall display featuring encouraging messages puts mental health support for ONU students front and center.
Ohio Northern University is known for its warm, caring atmosphere. It permeates the entire body of students, faculty and staff, and it’s evident to virtually anyone who sets foot on campus. Now, a new display in McIntosh Center has captured this deep sense of community in a visual, tangible way.
Located in McIntosh Center near the entrance of the Office of Student Affairs, the ONU Cares Encouragement Wall is comprised of dozens of encouraging messages and insights from students in a variety of student organizations. From simple words like “You are loved” to more detailed bits of advice, the display evokes feelings of hope, empathy and support.
The idea for the Encouragement Wall began as a way to honor Suicide Prevention Month while also abiding by the current COVID-19 safety policies. Typically, the ONU Counseling Center invites a speaker to campus or hosts special activities, but this year, they had to get creative.
“We decided to start asking different organizations and classes that we presented to, virtually or in person, to provide words of encouragement for fellow Polar Bears,” says Marcia Kostoff, ONU mental health counselor. “Over 100 responses later, we had the content to create this Encouragement Wall.”
The ONU Counseling Center spent the last few weeks collecting the encouraging words, which were submitted anonymously by various student organizations across campus. They then assembled all the responses into a glass display area in a collage-style format, along with contact information for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Crisis Text Line.
Although the Encouragement Wall has just been recently assembled, the reaction from students, faculty and staff has been positively moving.
Fourth-year pharmacy student Aakash Pathak was walking by the Office of Students Affairs one day when the colorful display caught his attention. His initial reaction was one of deep appreciation.
UPON READING THROUGH THE PHRASES, I FELT AN OVERWHELMING AMOUNT OF COMPASSION THAT THE ONU COMMUNITY HAS FOR ITS STUDENTS. ONU CARES ABOUT EACH AND EVERY ONE OF US AND IS ALWAYS THERE TO HELP US IN TIMES OF NEED,” HE SAYS. “‘YOU CAN DO THIS. I’M HERE FOR YOU.’ ‘YOU ARE LOVED.’ ‘SOMEONE IS HERE TO HELP.’ THESE ARE JUST SOME OF THE TERMS THAT REMINDED ME THAT I MATTER.”
As the 2020 fall semester has been wrought with challenges and restrictions due to COVID-19, it’s no surprise that the current circumstances have taken a mental toll on virtually everyone at ONU. For many students, the limits on in-person social interactions have been difficult to cope with, and while many things have been moved to virtual platforms, as Pathak puts it, “it’s just not the same.” The “new normal” is slowly becoming more routine, but that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to deal with.
Thankfully, the ONU Counseling Center has risen above the call of duty to help students in any way possible, from holding increased counseling sessions to sharing mental health resources. The center also plans on installing another Encouragement Wall in Heterick Memorial Library.
Pathak, too, felt there was more he could do. As an on-campus resident assistant, he devised a project similar to the Encouragement Wall for his residents. He plans to write short, motivational phrases on sticky notes and place them outside every room in his residence hall.
“I know at this point in the semester, everyone needs a slight push so that they can make it to the finish line,” he says. “After a long, possibly stressful day, residents will come to something that reminds them that they are valued and that they matter. I think this will be a good reminder for them to self-reflect and seek any counseling or help if needed.”
For Marcia Kostoff, the eager willingness of students to support each other through this difficult time serves as a testament to the inner strength and resiliency of the ONU student body.
“Our ONU students are incredibly resilient and have overcome so much already this semester,” she says. “It has been exciting and inspiring to see students’ words come to life and to have the power to lift up their fellow Polar Bears. We want to create a culture of caring and one that emphasizes every person’s voice matters. This is one step in allowing students to help students and offer hope for anyone who needs it.”
If you feel you are struggling and in need of extra support or have any concerns about anyone close to you, please contact the ONU Counseling Center at 419-772-2190 or firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can assist you. Our office hours are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. In case of a mental health emergency during weekend or evening hours, students can contact the Crisis Text Line at 4HOPE at 741741 or call the 24-hour helpline at 1-800-567-4673.