Director of Health and Student Support Services Jeff Desjarlais gave this talk during announcements on Monday, April 12.

Good morning. It has been awhile since I had the opportunity to speak to you, and the middle of this STAC seems a good time to share some thoughts from Health Services.

As you know, this year continues to be difficult — a constant tension between optimism and reality, good news and caution, little victories and daily losses. We have returned to campus four days a week, we have welcomed warm weather, returned to a spring sports season, embraced the chance to be outside, and shifted our COVID focus from testing to vaccinations. Of course we should celebrate these milestones. And it is important to remember that this is still a complicated and challenging time. Many of us are still processing the results of how this last year has affected us socially, emotionally, and, yes, academically. It has been difficult to just jump back in to school even four days a week, especially for those of you for whom this is still a new school.

I had the chance to speak with you three times in the fall. I shared this on September 10 as we began the school year together:

The challenge is to accept both truths. Is it possible to be optimistic and positive while also feeling uncertain, disappointed and sad?

How does that affect us everyday, our thoughts, our moods, our behaviors? How do we manage then?

The truth is, within this reality, exists an opportunity. That opportunity is to spend more time talking about, acknowledging and giving voice to issues of mental health. We all have mental health just as we all have physical health. It is something we should be attending to and discussing daily and yet the continued stigma and shame from our culture and years of misinformation and stereotyping have led some to avoid or deny the reality that mental health is an issue that concerns all of us.

That statement is as relevant now as it was in September. Next month is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I look forward to working with Active Minds and with my counseling staff, Carlos, Aimee, David, and Elise, to offer resources and opportunities for conversation.

But we do not need a Mental Health Awareness Month to remind us of the importance of mental health during this difficult time. So today, I simply want both students and adults in the community to remember that the emotional impact of this pandemic is far from over. Our response to the mental health of our community needs to continue to be a priority. We need to be as vigilant about our emotional and mental health as we are about risk mitigation, masks, and social distancing. I will continue to work with members of the faculty and administration to create opportunities — in the words of my colleague Dr. Carlos Hoyt — to not only empathize with students but also to advocate for them.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions or feedback, feel free to contact me or a member of Health Services. We welcome your perspective and thank you for your time.