WILLISTON, N.D. - Since starting at Williston State College in 2014, Leah Hoffman, WSC's Mental Health Counselor, continues to play an integral role in developing WSC's mental health focus.
A Williston native, Hoffman has a BS and an MA in Addiction Studies and is working toward her PhD in Health Sciences from the University of South Dakota (USD).
Her goal is to transform her public health research - focused on access to rural substance abuse prevention and treatment - into effective programs and initiatives to improve individual, family, and community wellness.
This July, Hoffman was selected as one of USD's Class of 2018 "30 Under 30" in recognition of her work in and outside of the classroom.
"I am very interested in college student mental health," explained Hoffman. "An exciting project I completed as part of my PhD program was a course I designed with learning objectives including resiliency, communication, and self-awareness."
Hoffman will teach this class Spring 2019 in addition to serving as WSC's only on-campus counselor.
"While WSC is a single counselor office, I am still part of a team," stated Hoffman.
WSC's agreement with Lake Region State College and Dakota College at Bottineau allows students to connect with other providers as appropriate via computer monitor in a WSC counseling office. Another agreement between WSC and Northern Prairie Community Clinic (NPCC) in Grand Forks, ND also allows students to connect with NPCC on their personal laptops in the privacy of their own home.
WSC renewed a contract with Clinical Consulting in Williston, ND, which can provide students with psychiatric medication assessments.
"I've had to get creative to piece together these different treatment options, and students are relieved to know there is quite a variety of options for them," explained Hoffman. "We are able to dial in on what will be the best fit and triage from there."
In addition to professional provider resources, the WSC chapter of Active Minds encourages mental health discussion at a peer-to-peer level.
Active Minds at WSC is a student group that focus on promoting mental health awareness among college students. It became an active WSC organization in January 2016 and is the first Active Minds chapter in North Dakota. Hoffman leads the chapter.
One of the group's goals for the 2018-19 school year is establishing a peer support group that will meet weekly on campus. Known as "Tetons Talk," the group will meet every Monday from September 24 through December 10.
"Students are encouraged to talk to each other," stated Hoffman. "Developing positive relationships with fellow students builds confidence and a sense of community when they recognize they are not alone in their struggles."
This week, the Active Minds group set up a table outside of the bookstore with information about mental health and suicide prevention. Included was a "Have you ever?" poster that encouraged participants to place a fingerprint next to any statements that related to something they have felt before, from experiencing anxiety to talking to someone about their mental health.
Hoffman continues to witness increasing support from the College community about mental health awareness and discussion.
"Faculty and staff are now familiar with the process and make great referrals," explained Hoffman. "WSC's support has been vital in establishing this counseling office. Our students' overall well-being is an important piece of having success in the classroom."
College is a major time of transition for every type of student, from traditional out-of-high-school age to older first-time college goers. Students experience a wide spectrum of challenges - financial, physical, spiritual, and mental. Combined with many mental health issues arising in the early 20s and feeling like they cannot talk to someone can be overwhelming.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students and the number of people dying by suicide in the United States has risen by about 30 percent in the past two decades.
"Quality, meaningful connections with other people is one of the strongest protective factors for suicide," explained Hoffman. "One of the most important things that is within our control is to simply start the conversation. Thirty percent of college students say that at some point in the last year they felt so down that it was difficult to function. Let's talk about what to do if that happens."
On Saturday, September 22nd, an Out of the Darkness Community Walk will be held on the WSC campus from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. A free lunch is available from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and the walk begins at 1 p.m.
This event is meant to give people the courage to open up about their own struggle or loss and to provide a platform to change the approach to mental health. WSC's Active Minds will participate in the walk.
For more information on Active Minds and mental health services available at WSC, please contact Leah Hoffman, LAC, at 701.774.4212 or firstname.lastname@example.org
For any information regarding WSC, please visit www.willistonstate.edu, call 1.888.863.9455, or stop by 1410 University Avenue, Williston, ND.