Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 26, 2020

Univ. announces online mental health resource

By RUDY MALCOM | February 20, 2020

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SilverCloud is now available to full-time students and trainees at Hopkins.

Vice Provost for Student Health and Well-Being Kevin Shollenberger announced in an email to the student body on Wednesday that SilverCloud — an online, self-guided mental health resource — is now free and available to full-time Hopkins students and trainees. 

“SilverCloud offers 24/7 access to interactive learning modules that teach cognitive behavioral therapy techniques for approaching life’s challenges and managing mild-to-moderate symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns,” Shollenberger wrote.

Sophomore Amanda Howard, a Public Health major, believes that SilverCloud can benefit individuals who are working to enrich their lives. However, she called on the University to implement more crisis resources in an email to The News-Letter.

“The app is a step towards the institution recognizing that suffering from depression and anxiety is far too common here. However, I feel that an app won’t touch the people who need help most,” she wrote. “This is a pretty passive intervention that doesn’t actively involve members of the community who need help.”

Vice President of Advocates for Disability Awareness (ADA) Sabrina Epstein echoed Howard’s sentiments in an email to The News-Letter

“I really hope this new resource reaches people who may not feel comfortable or aren’t fully being served by existing campus mental health resources,” she wrote. “However, this resource is not a replacement for therapy, and the Counseling Center is still very limited in what services it provides.”

Epstein questioned whether SilverCloud could address concerns raised by the Task Force on Student Mental Health and Well-Being in February 2018, which Shollenberger referenced in his email.

The Task Force — comprised of students, faculty and staff from all nine divisions of the University — was formed by University President Ronald J. Daniels in March 2016 in order to improve mental health on campus.

Fifty-eight percent of students surveyed reported feeling overwhelmed “often or very often.” A majority of students indicated that, at least occasionally, they were so overwhelmed or depressed that it was “difficult to function.” Nearly 30 percent of undergraduates and over 15 percent of graduate students stated they had seriously considered suicide.

This August, Shollenberger told The News-Letter that the Task Force’s recommendations highlighted the need to consolidate the University’s mental health resources, which had been decentralized across each of the University’s nine divisions. Previously vice provost for student affairs, Shollenberger became the University’s inaugural provost for student health and well-being in August. 

In this position, he hopes to develop a single University-wide system for primary care and health and wellness programs. This fall, he noted plans to propose more structural changes to these services by the end of last semester. The University’s nine deans would review these recommendations during the spring, he said, and implement them for the 2020-21 academic year.

Shollenberger mentioned these endeavors in his email.

“The feedback we’ve received from our community, as well as the recommendations of the Task Force on Student Mental Health and Well-Being, have been essential in guiding our work to bolster our roster of available wellness resources,” he wrote.

Sophomore Xandi Egginton, who has anxiety and depression, questioned the Counseling Center’s ability to handle mental health issues in an empathetic and productive way. In an email to The News-Letter, he argued that SilverCloud would be unable to improve how mental health is treated on Homewood Campus

“[SilverCloud] is highly impersonal, and the idea that interactive lessons on cognitive behavioral theory could create a tangible difference in someone’s life is a little misleading,” Egginton wrote. “Most of us who have already been diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders know what cognitive behavioral theory is. The hard part is the practice of integrating that understanding into the reality of our daily lives. Online modules trivialize, to a certain extent, the depth of mental health disorders.”

This fall, Shollenberger helped launch wellness.jhu.edu in order to increase awareness of the University’s programs and reduce stigma around mental health. 

In the email, he cited further plans to expand and unify mental health resources at Hopkins, such as changes to the Out of Darkness Walk, an annual event hosted by the Hopkins Student Assistance Program to honor lives lost to suicide and raise awareness about suicide prevention.

“We are also working to introduce more university-wide programs that connect our campus communities. By encouraging cross-campus collaboration on events such as the Out of Darkness Walk — an annual tradition for our graduate schools that will be made even more accessible to everyone at Homewood this spring — we can build deeper support networks that allow us to share both our struggles and our successes,” Shollenberger wrote.

Shollenberger also noted that videos used in SilverCloud’s modules are captioned and have complete transcriptions, which Advocates for Disability Awareness Vice President Sabrina Epstein appreciated. 

“That’s a great step for accessibility that I wish Hopkins would implement across all video content,” she wrote.

At the end of the email, Shollenberger expressed his optimism for his office’s continued efforts. 

“We are all here to partner with you in your academic and personal growth, so please feel encouraged to seek resources and support whenever you need them,” he wrote.

In October 2017, the Counseling Center began promoting Calm, an app that offers guided meditation, sleep assistance and music to help users relax and de-stress. Students, faculty and staff have free access to the app through August 2020.

Senior Ellie Damstra reflected on the potential impact and effectiveness of apps like SilverCloud. She is a member of A Place to Talk (APTT), a student-run peer listening service. 

“It’s great that we’re increasing and diversifying the types of resources available to students. That said, it’s important that students realize the impact that being vulnerable can have. Even though it can be hard to discuss certain issues with peers or other figures, human contact is an invaluable resource that no app or module can replace,” she said. “It is always okay to reach out and ask for help.”

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