Counseling Center

Mental Health Education

The role of the Mental Health Educator is to provide education and training on mental health topics and work more broadly to promote a healthy mental and emotional environment on campus.  This position was created in the fall of 2012, and is currently funded by a 3-year Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Campus Suicide Prevention grant, through the spring of 2015.  The Mental Health Educator chairs the Mental Health and Wellness Committee and works with the campus community on a range of mental health initiatives, including:

  • Trainings for students, faculty and staff
  • Programs and events, e.g. the Wellness Fair, the Wellness Challenge, screenings, speakers
  • Awareness and educational campaigns
  • Informational resources, e.g. facebook page, mental health web content, brochures and posters

History

In May 2010, the directors of the Counseling Center and Health Education attended a training sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health about strategic planning for suicide prevention on college campuses. Based on recommendations from this training, a Mental Health Task Force (MHTF) was established in the fall of 2010 and began a two-year climate assessment and strategic planning process.  The Task Force conducted 24 focus groups, soliciting input from students, staff, and faculty about student mental health on campus. The Task Force used this data to conduct a comprehensive analysis, using a public health model, that identified strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and barriers to mental health support at Amherst, and compiled an executive report.  The Task Force was also instrumental in writing a grant proposal for the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Campus Suicide Prevention grant, which was awarded in the fall of 2012, and funds the Mental Health Education position, the Student Support Network, and many other mental health and wellness initiatives on campus.

Get Involved

We all contribute to creating a caring community through our daily interactions.  When mental health concerns are raised, it is important to respond sensitively and supportively.  Students who would like to build their empathy and support skills and learn how to respond to mental health concerns may elect to participate in Student Support Network training.  Faculty and staff are also encouraged to request mental health talks and trainings.

For those interested in getting involved in education and awareness efforts, several student organizations and campus groups work in this area, including To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and Random Acts of Kindness.  To find out what initiatives are currently underway, contact Jessica Gifford, Mental Health Educator, at jgifford@amherst.edu or x5637.

Staff

Jessica Gifford was hired for the position of Mental Health Educator in November 2012.  Jessica received her BA from Antioch College and her MSW from Smith College School for Social Work.  She has worked in a variety of clinical settings, including a residential program for teen girls, an outpatient clinic, and an inpatient adolescent psychiatric hospital.  In 2005, Jessica became the Wellness Center Director at Hampshire College, moving from clinical work into the field of wellness promotion.  Jessica enjoys working with college students and is passionate about promoting mental and emotional health and wellness.

You may contact Jessica at jgifford@amherst.edu or 413-542-5637.

Student Staff: Two to three students also work in Mental Health Education, to advertise and host programs, help facilitate workshops and develop materials.