Student Wellness Center shifts focus to prevention

by Heyi Jiang | 1/26/16 7:45pm

As winter rolls on in Hanover, the Student Wellness Center remains a place of warmth and welcoming spirits. Renamed in the fall from the Student Health Promotion and Wellness Center to the Student Wellness Center, the wellness center looks forward to further enhancing its existing programs in the winter through creating a focus on preventative care, the director of the wellness center Caitlin Barthelmes said.

While the wellness center used to primarily focus on responding to high-risk behaviors, such as binge drinking and sexual violence, it is now looking to “truly embrace the spirit of prevention,” she said.

Barthelmes said that while the wellness center will still address high-risk behaviors, its new focus is to get to the roots of these issues and prevent them from happening in the first place.

She added that one of the new initiatives is the expansion of the network of providers for the BASICS program. BASICS is a confidential one-on-one meeting with a staff member from the wellness center designed to address decisions around drinking.

Newly appointed assistant director for health improvement Mary Nyhan said that the wellness center takes a very holistic approach in order to achieve preventive wellness.

“My goal for the student wellness center is that we will create and support the conditions under which students can be well, whatever that means to them,” she said.

Since the reorganization, the center has placed emphasis on the “seven roots of wellness,” a concept that encourages students to thrive intellectually, financially, physically, environmentally, socially, emotionally and spiritually.

Programs that have emerged include the wellness breakfast check-in sessions every Saturday. The breakfasts create an environment that allow students to actively reflect on their wellness and connect with other students, Nyhan said. The breakfast sessions are facilitated by wellness peers, who have been trained in “motivational interviewing” skills to engage with the students. She added that similar programs have allowed the wellness center to integrate the spirit of wellness into the campus life.

The wellness center’s training program for prospective peer advisors will also be updated. In addition to the training on “motivational interviewing” skills, they will also receive training in “mindfulness,” which encompasses reflection, connection and intention.

“One of the goals for the peers is to have them model what we hope students to embody,” Nyhan said. “Our goal in having peers trained in their own personal mindfulness [is to] make them stronger resources for their peers.”

After examining programs administered in environments similar to the College, the center will begin to incorporate the successful programs on a small scale. Once the programs are in place, the wellness center will evaluate feedback from Dartmouth students. This evaluation will allow the wellness center’s initiatives to be as student-centered and evidence- based as possible, Barthelmes said.

The center will also aim to be an “access point” for students to be linked to other wellness services on campus, Barthelmes said.

Barthelmes said that the center sees its role as supporting students, staff and faculty in having a conversation about wellness outside the walls of the wellness center itself.

The wellness center will continue to contribute to the development of policies that affect students’ wellbeing through interactions with individual students and student groups, as well as ensuring that the systems with which students interact at Dartmouth will empower students to prioritize their wellbeing, Nyhan said.

“My hope for the student wellness center is that we really empower students on an individual level and as a community to truly thrive, and maximize their potential and our potential as a community,” Barthelmes said.

Wellness peer Savannah Moss ’18 said that the wellness center is a very “safe place” where students are able to find a group of people available for them.

Moss said that there is a potential for one-on-one sessions in the future upon students’ requests.

The adults at the wellness center have been very helpful in actualizing programs deemed valuable by wellness peers, Moss said.

She said the wellness center makes a number of resources available for those interested in mental health and mental health awareness.

“It is a really welcoming community,” she said.