9 NC student newsrooms join statewide partnership in mental health collaborative issue

Courtesy of Olivia Goodson, Hailey Patterson, Grace Davidson, The Daily Tar Heel; Erin Martin, The Pendulum; Jamie Antinore, The East Carolinian.
Courtesy of Olivia Goodson, Hailey Patterson, Grace Davidson, The Daily Tar Heel; Erin Martin, The Pendulum; Jamie Antinore, The East Carolinian.

The Chronicle joined a partnership of nine student newspapers from universities across North Carolina to produce a “Mental Health Collaborative” issue.

The effort was spearheaded by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s The Daily Tar Heel (DTH), which received a grant in 2023 from the Solutions Journalism Network as part of its Student Media Challenge initiative.

The A&T Register of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, The East Carolinian of East Carolina University, The Niner Times of UNC-Charlotte, The Old Gold & Black of Wake Forest University, The Pendulum of Elon University, The Seahawk of UNC Wilmington and Technician of North Carolina State University also contributed to the project.

Mental health has become an issue of critical importance for youth across the nation, with a 2023 report from the National Center for Health Sciences finding that suicide rates for those aged 10-24 rose 62% between 2007 and 2021. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy visited Duke in October to discuss the “public health issue” of loneliness, underscoring the importance of investing in mental health in light of a public advisory he issued in May 2023 on the negative effects of social media on youth physical and mental health.

North Carolina’s collegiate newsrooms collaborated to shine a light on the urgency of addressing this crisis, sharing efforts by North Carolina governments, university administrations, students and community members to promote mental health.

Mental health research

Many North Carolina universities have leveraged their positions as institutions of higher education to conduct research on a variety of topics related to mental health.

At Duke, researchers from across the University are working on projects that touch on mental health issues, exploring the impact of learning, mindfulness and culture on wellness. Cross-departmental research on the subject is also happening at UNC-Chapel Hill, where a new Health and Humanities Interdisciplinary Venue for Exploration Lab facilitates collaboration between humanities and STEM fields.

Other universities are looking into the impact that different environmental stressors can have on student mental health. One N.C. State professor is using AI to flag content posted on X indicating the user is experiencing mental health concerns with the goal of quickly connecting at-risk individuals to mental health resources, while a psychology professor and clinician at Elon researches the causal factors of eating disorders. A graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill is studying the long-term effects on campus mental health, motivated by the two incidents of gun violence that took place on campus early in the fall semester.

Government policies

North Carolina has seen a number of new initiatives targeting mental health concerns in recent years.

In 2016, Orange County’s Criminal Justice Resource Department established its first program aimed at providing at-risk youth with interventionary programming, which has since been succeeded by a number of similar initiatives.

North Carolina also recently launched a “Child Behavioral Health” dashboard to provide data on mental illnesses, more qualitative metrics on mental wellness, and demographic information. The initiative comes after a sizable investment in mental health funding, with $835 million included in the 2023-25 state budget for behavioral health.

University efforts

University administrations have increasingly looked for new ways to combat the student mental health crisis.

At N.C. State and UNC-Chapel Hill, administrations updated their response protocols after confronting a string of student deaths by suicide in 2023 and 2021, respectively. Both schools partnered with The JED Foundation to “improve mental health programs and suicide prevention efforts,” conducted research about mental health sentiment on campus and established websites that house a number of resources available to students.

Many schools are turning to faculty members as the first line of defense for students struggling with their mental health, including Wake Forest, which offers a Care 101 training series to prepare faculty to effectively manage such conversations. The university’s traditional counseling services took a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, but staff are working to increase satisfactory ratings among students by addressing increasing hiring and partnering with virtual care platforms.

Administrators are also rolling out new programs to provide on-campus mental health services to students. Elon is opening a new wellness center on campus to house HealthEU, an initiative launched by administration in August 2022 to coordinate the efforts of existing health and wellness organizations on campus.

A number of North Carolina universities implemented “wellness days” to provide mental health support for students in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The DTH examined the impact such initiatives have had on students and faculty from various participating colleges, while The A&T Register discussed how such wellness days have worked in tandem with university-sponsored counseling and student-organized wellness events to promote mental health at N.C. A&T.

Avery Cook, director of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Counseling and Psychological Services, spoke to The DTH about the financial barriers students may face in receiving mental health services, many of which result from issues navigating insurance coverage standards that are often overly complicated and time-consuming. The A&T Register emphasized the importance of financial wellness in preserving mental health in the context of rising tuition costs and the high proportion of students with federal loans at HBCUs.

Student support

In addition to the particular financial stressors associated with college, campus culture around alcohol can also have a harmful effect on student mental health. Phoenix Free, a recovery organization at Elon, has seen success in building a community of support for students practicing sobriety, while a number of organizations throughout the Triangle provide similar services to LGBTQ North Carolinians struggling with both substance abuse and gender identity/sexuality issues.

Affinity groups have become a safe space on many college campuses for students seeking mental health support. At UNC Wilmington, queer students spoke to The Seahawk about their experiences finding supportive communities as a significant minority on campus.

Students of color at UNC-Chapel Hill shared positive experiences engaging with organizations like the Carolina Latinx Center and the Muslim Student Association. Carolina Indian Circle has seen success hosting occasional healing circles for Native American students, though they’ve struggled to find administrative support for culture-responsive therapy services.

At ECU, student organizations like the Black Student Union and International Students Association have played a critical role in making students “feel heard and understood.” UNC-Charlotte’s Triveni Indian Student Association supports international students in their efforts to secure housing in an unfamiliar environment, and the Graduate & Professional Student Government created a Graduate Student Housing Committee in September 2023 to assist in the process.

Spirituality has become a grounding force in the lives of many students at UNC-Chapel Hill, with a number of religious organizations on campus providing programming to students seeking a deeper connection with their faith and community support.

Creative outlets can go a long way in promoting mental health, as evidenced by a number of programs that make use of these strategies in the Triangle region. Art therapists across the Triangle use a variety of mediums to help patients process grief, including painting, poetry, dancing and acting. In Chatham County, the Farm at Penny Lane provides programming for those diagnosed with serious mental illness that allows them to connect with nature, aiding in the recovery process.

Some students have organized their own initiatives to promote mental health, like those at Wake Forest who launched a chapter of IfYoureReadingThis — a mental health nonprofit that works to destigmatize mental health “by offering a collection of student-authored letters that detail personal experiences with mental health battles.”


Mental health support for student athletes varies across North Carolina colleges and universities.

UNC-Charlotte leads the pack with a partnership between Charlotte Athletics and AthleteTalk — a mental health and wellness app that provides users with a daily “social media wellness feed” — while UNC-Chapel Hill provides regular programming around mental health to student athletes through the Carolina Athletics Mental Health and Performance Psychology Program. Club and intramural sports at UNC-Chapel Hill similarly support student mental health, serving as both an outlet for the pressure of college life and providing a sense of community.

Morgan’s Message — founded by the family of Morgan Rodgers, a student athlete at Duke who took her life in July 2019 — works to shine light on mental health awareness in student athletes around the country. The nonprofit has an active chapter at ECU.


Two former members of UNC-Chapel Hill’s swim team wrote an opinion editorial criticizing the university’s “win-at-all-cost attitude,” arguing that many policies geared toward enhanced performance actively sacrifice student-athlete mental health.

Other columnists condemned policy failures at a number of levels that contribute to poor student mental health. The DTH’s editorial board argued for more ambitious policy action at the state level, pointing to abnormally high rates of suicide in North Carolina’s youth as evidence for a need for greater investment in mental health programs, while Technician’s editors-in-chief advocated for more mindful discourse around mental health issues on social media to prevent “suicide contagion.”

In a similar vein, The DTH published an opinion editorial recommending “stigma” be replaced with “sanism” in discussions of mental health to acknowledge the systemic component of discrimination faced by many with diagnosed mental disorders. Another columnist shared his experience grappling with the generational nature of mental health struggles often felt by minority communities.

One student reflected on times she supported friends struggling with mental health issues to underscore the importance of peer support, while another shared her experience battling major depressive disorder and finally finding an effective treatment method: “Knowing now that I can say ‘I am happy’ out loud and mean it, has made all the difference.”


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