As the holidays get closer, the weather gets chillier and finals creep nearer, Brigham Young University wants to make sure its students feel loved.
“We don’t want any of our students to be suffering this time of year,” said Nathan Ward, an associate dean of students at BYU.
The university is in the middle of You Are Loved, a multi-week campaign that closes out a year of efforts to boost the mental health of its student body. In addition to the campaign, BYU has also adopted an app aimed at prevention and added three new licensed psychologists to BYU Counseling and Psychological Services.
BYU has added five positions in the last five years to come to a total of 32 full-time counselors, bringing the university’s ratio to one full-time therapist per 1,047 students. The national standard is about one full-time therapist per 1,500 students, according to the university.
“I think the announcement of three new counselors is not a small thing,” Ward said.
BYU began meeting in January to formulate ideas for the You Are Loved campaign. Ward said students can be stressed near the end of the year due to a combination of reasons, including stress about the upcoming holidays, seasonal changes and going from situations where they may have been the top students at their high school to now competing with other high-performing students at BYU.
The university had seen the need for additional counseling and an increase of depression and anxiety among students. Ward said it’s a topic that’s on administrators’ minds.
“You are loved” is a message they thought would resonate well with students. The campaign, which began Nov. 18 and continues until Dec. 12, includes events like free hot chocolate and cookies, caroling, suicide prevention training and therapy dogs. It’s also included a BYU Instagram Story on respect, a 30-day self-care challenge that includes items such as finding positive social media accounts, reading a book for fun and meal planning. They also had customizable compliment cards and stickers with the campaign’s four themes — you belong, you are valued, you matter and you support. Stickers and buttons are given in pairs, with the idea that students should give the extra to a friend.
The campaign hopes to alert students about mental health services on and off campus.
Ward said something as simple as giving a student a free cookie can help them feel seen and acknowledged.
“We wanted this to be something where we could impact a large amount of students,” he said.
BYU is interested in repeating the event.
The university has invested in other preventative measures, including making the app Sanvello available for free for its students.
The app provides self-care tools to help manage stress, anxiety and depression. More than 5,000 users at BYU have joined the app in the three months since it’s launched there, according to Sanvello. BYU is one of eight university systems to offer the app for free and is the first in Utah to adopt it.
“The apps don’t do the same thing as therapy, but they do improve mental health and they are convenient,” said Klint Hobbs, an assistant clinical professor and psychologist at BYU.
Hobbs said BYU chose Sanvello after looking for ways to expand mental health options for students. The app focuses on emotional regulation, includes mood tracking and has different levels of involvement.
“We have liked Sanvello so far,” Hobbs said.
It’s been free for students since the beginning of the fall semester. Sanvello is normally $8.99 a month or $53.99 for a year.
BYU promoted it to students during new student orientation and has offered free food in exchange for downloading it. It has also sent out mass emails to the campus community about it.
Hobbs said most students who see a counselor at BYU only go once. The most commonly presented issues in sessions are depression and anxiety.
He hopes students will start using preventative systems like Sanvello at the beginning of the semester, when stress is lower, and therefore avoid more severe mental health issues.
The new initiatives signal a change as BYU moves away from the idea that education is purely academic and instead adopting a more comprehensive approach. Hobbs said the university has been monetarily investing in mental health initiatives over the last year.
“I think BYU as a whole is trying to look at the whole student,” Hobbs said.