sun shining through tress and flowers

Fall 2021 — When Oregon State University students are feeling overwhelmed or need a safe space to talk, an online community called Togetherall offers a caring environment to access mental health support and share feelings with other students. 

From racial injustice and other forms of discrimination to pandemic-related stressors to feelings of isolation, university students today face many challenges. In addition to increasing rates of anxiety and depression, the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention reports that suicide increased for youths nationwide by 56% between 2007 and 2017. The COVID-19 pandemic intensified and created new obstacles for young people with changes and disruptions to their peer relationships, financial stability and important events, like graduations. 

This is especially true for students of color who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and are more broadly dealing with systemic racism, racial violence and race-related stress. Students of color are more likely to report feeling overwhelmed their first year of college than their white classmates, yet they are less likely to seek help, according to the Steve Fund Crisis Response Task Force. 

“Our students consistently ask for options to receive and provide peer support. Connecting with others who understand how we’re feeling, and perhaps even have gone through it themselves, helps us to feel heard and understood,” says Bonnie Hemrick, who serves as assistant director of mental health promotion in Counseling & Psychological Services and interim director of Prevention & Wellness in Student Health Services. “With how much isolation we have all felt during the pandemic, connecting with others is more important now than ever.” 

Hemrick was part of a cross-departmental team that collaborated to make Togetherall accessible at no cost to OSU students. The first year of funding was provided by Dam Worth It, an organization dedicated to ending the stigma around mental health. 

Joining the Togetherall community empowers students to seek support for their mental health and well-being in a welcoming and safe environment. Monitored by licensed and registered mental health professionals, it is accessible 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. The online platform allows students to connect with others who are having similar experiences; process their feelings through journaling or creative expression; and identify goals and track progress. Further, students may participate in online courses that bolster well-being or find additional support with mental health clinicians.  

Counseling & Psychological Services also offers individual therapy, support groups and other resources, plus works with university partners to create a culture of care at Oregon State. For example, CAPS participates in the Healthy Campus Coalition, which is led by Student Health Services and the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. In addition to supporting the well-being of the entire OSU community, the HCC focuses on holistic care for students that considers their academic, emotional, environmental, financial, physical, social and spiritual health. 

“In order to be a fully happy, healthy, functioning person, we need to attend to all of our needs, both mentally and physically,” Hemrick says.