Mental Health Culture at CNU

An interview with Dr. Michelle Lange

In February of 2022, The Captain’s Log interviewed CNU psychology professor, Dr. Michelle Lange, a practicing clinical psychologist. In this interview, Lange shared her online mental health resource, Wellness at CNU, a website in which students can find supportive resources and services that suit their area of concern. 

They can click various options, such as “test anxiety,”  “financial worries,” “eating concerns,” or “concern about discrimination.” Once the student selects a topic of concern, the website directs them to resources, both within CNU and outside the university. CNU resources include the Office of Counseling Services or the Center for Academic Success. Depending on the issue, outside resources vary, but examples include The National Eating Disorder Association and The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 

The Captain’s Log recently conducted another interview with Lange in which she shared her thoughts about the current mental health climate at CNU and how students can find the right support.

CNU has under 5,000 undergraduate students, but Lange says its small size is a benefit, “I think that CNU’s community size is a protective factor for mental health, because it is a community where people don’t fall into the cracks so easily… You are a part of it. People care about you, they notice when you’re missing, when you’re absent. You’re not nameless here.”

When asked if she thinks there is still a mental health stigma on campus, Lange explains that every place has stigmatization to some extent, but she says, “the generation who are currently college students have less stigma towards mental health issues and towards seeking treatment for mental health issues than prior generations. I think college students as well, by definition, are learning how to be critical consumers of information.”

Being “critical consumers” is especially important in the age of social media, Lange says,  where people only share certain aspects of their life, skewing reality.

“I think there’s still some potential for good on social media if you really are mindful of looking at it as, this is what someone selectively put out there, understanding it’s not the whole truth – it’s one perspective or one angle… But if it’s going to be helpful for people, they’ve got to be able to come to it with a critical eye,” says Lange. 

The pandemic is another factor that has greatly affected the mental health of college students. As campuses across the country return to some level of normalcy, the question remains, will mental health amongst students ever fully recover or bounce back?

Lange explains that social isolation and remote learning is not something that people should just expect to ‘bounce back from.” She says, “I think there’s such thing as recovery, but I don’t think that just because a public health crisis ends, that the mental health effects of that immediately end with it.”

Remote learning, in particular, has left many students ill prepared to move forward in their educational careers because they did not have a sufficient learning environment.

Lange says, “I think people are playing a lot of catch up while also trying to simultaneously learn the things they’re supposed to be learning right now. That just creates more stress.”

Lange also talks about CNU faculty’s role in helping students with their mental health. For the 2022-2023 academic year, faculty were invited to attend a panel at CNU that included author, Dr. Angela Stowe. Stowe talked about her article, “Getting to the Sandbar:

Understanding the Emotional Phases of COVID-19 Among College and University Students.” A Q&A for faculty to openly discuss the topic followed the panel presentation.  

 Lange says, “The goal is not to make professors junior counselors. It is for the professors to be able to express their care and concern and then refer anyone who they have concerns about to appropriate resources.”

In addition, she emphasizes that CNU’s on-campus counseling services are not always the answer, “I just worry that we as a campus tend to present the counseling center as the be-all, end-all of mental health on campus, and it’s not and shouldn’t be presented that way.”

Lange explains that, while counseling services suit certain mental health needs, CNU offers other on-campus services that provide preventive and proactive measures to help students. She describes how things like developing effective study methods, managing time, or learning how to have tough conversations with others can prevent bigger stressors from occurring. 

Students can find resources outside of campus as well, says Lange. One example she gives is the Hampton-Newport News Community Services Board, which offers reduced fees on mental health support for lower-income people. 

Lange believes there needs to be more outreach so that students know these resources are available to them. Her Wellness at CNU website is part of her initiative to raise awareness of the resources being offered. 

In previous years, CNU had a program called The Wellness Action Team for Captain’s Health (WATCH), which consisted of faculty, staff, and student representatives who aimed to promote wellness initiatives on campus. CNU Watch has been inactive since the pandemic, but Lange hopes to see the program revived at some point.

She also suggests having listening sessions, like an open town hall centering on mental health, “That way people who feel concerned or passionate or have something to say about the topic can show up and talk to the people who have the ability to make decisions for the campus and who have the ability to make resources more well known.”

Lange says, “A big part of how we can, as a campus, best address mental health concerns is [by doing] less top-down, ‘here’s how we’re going to help.’ Do way more listening, ‘what help do you need?’”