Jul. 19—Data from a 2020 survey of Kansas State University indicate many students had feelings of stress and suicidal thoughts during the pandemic.

K-State Dean of Students Thomas Lane included portions of the data in a letter recently shared on K-State Today. Lane outlined some of the results of a survey conducted by web-based questionnaire distributor Healthy Minds in fall 2020; 793 students responded among those randomly selected.

Of the respondents, 39% reported mild to major depression, while 32% reported feeling anxious. Twenty-five percent of students who responded said they often felt lonely, and 12% said they experienced some form of suicidal thoughts or ideas over the past year.

Conversely, 39% of the responding students said they were "experiencing positive mental health." University spokeswoman Cindy Hollingsworth said the data from this survey is the baseline for future research into the wellness of students on campus. The next such survey will be administered in the next three to four years, as university officials continue their larger initiative toward improving overall campus wellness.

Lane wrote that the survey generated a "slightly lower than desired response rate," however the results "do mirror national student emotional well-being data."

According to a separate fall 2020 survey from the National College Health Assessment (NCHA), nearly one out of three students, or 33.1% of those surveyed, reported moderate to serious anxiety or depression. One out of five students, or 20.8%, met the screening criteria for a higher risk of suicide. This survey had more than 13,000 respondents.

In the fall 2019 NCHA survey, 21% of students surveyed said they felt "moderate" psychological distress, while 18% reported "serious" distress, and the remaining 61% stated they felt "no or low" levels of mental distress.

More than 2% of 2019 survey respondents indicated they had attempted suicide within the last year. Twenty-four percent of students who were screened for risk of suicide had a positive result showing they were at risk, while 76% screened negative for suicide risk. Conversely, nearly 55% of students said they felt their health and well-being is a priority at their university. More than 38,000 people answered the fall 2019 survey.

The NCHA survey includes questions about prioritizing mental health on campus and feelings of belonging or loneliness among the student body. Some of the survey questions ask those responding to rank their level of agreement on a 1-6 scale, 1 for "strongly disagree" and 6 for "strongly agree." Another portion of questions asks people to list how many hours they spend per week on different activities like studying, partying, or performing community service.

The data collected from the surveys will be used by a campus action team to narrow down a list of more than 70 potential action steps to support student wellbeing. The team consists of KSU students, faculty and staff, and consults with a campus advisor from the JED Foundation. Lane said the university partnered with the national nonprofit organization in 2019, well before the pandemic, to advance campus wellness programs.

"JED partners with colleges to strengthen their mental health, substance misuse, and suicide prevention programs," Lane said.

The JED partnership currently only extends to the Manhattan campus, but Lane said administrators "look forward to applying the learnings from this initial work" to the Salina Polytechnic and Olathe campuses.

Lane said You@KSU, an online anonymous platform for wellbeing resources, is currently available for K-State students, faculty and staff, and will be more widely advertised to incoming and current students this fall. A peer counseling program was also developed through the Thrive program at Lafene Health Center to teach self-care strategies and resiliency.

Lane said a consolidated counseling service within Lafene will also help in the wellbeing initiative.

"The newly named Lafene Counseling and Psychological Services, or CAPS, department... will be implementing a re-envisioned care model beginning this fall semester to better support our students and meet their emotional wellbeing needs," Lane said.

Lane said the newly renamed Morrison Family Center for Student Wellbeing will also offer workshops this fall for faculty and staff to recognize the signs of a student with a mental health concern, and how to refer them to helpful resources. Formerly the Lafene Health Promotions office, the Center for Student Wellbeing was named for financial benefactors and KSU alumni Charlie and Debbie Morrison.

Lane said he will provide updates on JED Campus Team meetings and future wellbeing initiatives.

"Support from caring and committed K-Staters will greatly assist the university in knitting a stronger fabric of care to support our students both personally and academically," Lane said.

EPA extends grant for radon program

The National Radon Program Services department at K-State was awarded a $600,000 grant to conduct national radon technical assistance for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The grant consists of a $200,000 payment each year for three years. It will provide for the ongoing sale of short and long-term radon test kits to people who want to test their home. More than 7,000 kits were sold as part of the program last year. The grant will also fund a radon hotline which processed more than 16,000 calls last year.

Bruce Snead, director of Engineering Extension in the Carl R. Ice College of Engineering, said in a statement Wednesday that the specific goal of the project "is to prevent future lung cancer deaths by increasing the public's knowledge of radon and the need to test and mitigate homes and schools."

Radon is a toxic gas that forms naturally when uranium or other radioactive metals break down in rocks, soil, and groundwater. It is colorless, odorless, and tasteless, and is known to increase risk of lung cancer. The only way to identify the presence of radon is by using a special test kit.

Short-term test kits typically consist of a hanging box with charcoal canisters inside that absorb radon, while some long-term kits feature a statically charged Teflon disc that loses its charge when it encounters an ion that is generated by radon decay. The radon level is calculated from the reduction of charge.

Radon test kits can be purchased on the National Radon Program Services website, sosradon.org. The site also includes more information about radon, how the tests work, and how to read the results.


(c)2021 The Manhattan Mercury, Kan.

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