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On Feb. 1, 2024, Dr. Jessi Gold began her role as chief wellness officer and associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC). The University of Tennessee (UT) System appointed Gold in Nov. 2023 to foster a culture of wellness among students, faculty, and staff across UT campuses. 

“I believe we could create all the best programs for mental health on campus, but they will only work if students feel safe and able to use them,” she said. “To do that, we need to change the conversation, and that happens between peers, between faculty and students, and between colleagues, but it also starts with me.”

Dr. Jessi Gold: Encourages Transparency and Engagement in the UT System

Specializing in mental health, burnout, and advocacy for healthcare workers, Gold is a nationally renowned expert on mental health and wellness. Alongside fostering an environment where faculty, staff, and students feel comfortable talking about mental health, Gold also prioritizes transparency in the administrative aspects of her new role. 

“It’s important that I am not only transparent in everything I am doing working in collaboration across the UT System, but that I am also modeling well-being and its sort of imperfect nature,” she said. “When you’re in a role like I will be in, that’s just as important as making policy or implementing programs.”

Gold previously served as the Wellness, Engagement, and Outreach director at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, where she was honored with the Dean’s Impact Award for her mental health work with frontline workers during COVID-19. 

Also, at Washington University, St Louis School of Medicine, Gold treated faculty, staff, students, and hospital employees as a psychiatrist. At the UTHSC in Memphis, she will continue her psychiatry work at University Health Services, seeing primarily students.

Notable is the first-ever chief wellness officer appointed by a state university system. The chief wellness officer is an innovative leadership position that has emerged to promote institutional mental health and wellness strategies amid the student mental health crisis. 

Though the title may vary at different schools, many of the nation’s leading universities have brought chief wellness officers aboard, including Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of Albany (SUNY). 

University of Tennessee culture of wellness

The Mental Health Crisis on College Campuses

Since COVID-19, the college student mental health crisis has significantly worsened. Before the pandemic, public universities were already facing higher demand for mental health services than ever before. This phenomenon is in part due to the diminishing social stigma around mental health but also the overwhelming challenges today’s college students face. 

College students often deal with many struggles as they navigate adulthood in a new environment for the first time. They may struggle to cope with heavy workloads, financial hardship, or general loneliness and anxiety. 

College students may also face other challenges like low self-esteem, interpersonal issues, and familial responsibilities, among other more significant struggles such as social injustice and mass violence. 

Common Mental Health Issues on College Campuses

According to the American College Health Association’s (ACHA) 2022 National College Health Assessment (NCHA), 77% of college students indicated experiencing moderate or severe psychological stress, with more than half reporting feelings of loneliness. 

The NCHA annually surveys more than 50,000 college students of various identities and backgrounds across US campuses. Of those surveyed in 2022, nearly 30% reported experiencing anxiety and depression concurrently. More than 75% of students said they had discussed anxiety or depression (or both) with a healthcare professional in the last year. 

Other mental health issues discussed by students included attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), attention deficit disorder (ADD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (ODC), and bipolar disorder. Over 70% of students reported seeking help for one of these conditions in the past 12 months.

Many people consider frequent drinking and drug use among students part of the stereotypical college experience. According to the NCHA survey, 46% of college students reported discussing alcohol or drug abuse with their healthcare provider in the last year. 

However, with the rising demand for mental health care on college campuses, students may also be struggling with substance abuse. In recent years, some universities have begun offering resources to students struggling with substance use to support them on the road to both recovery and graduation.  

Colleges’ Approach to Demand for Mental Health Services

In step with changing social and cultural ideals about mental health, higher education institutions across the nation are working to establish mental health as a core value. 

Valuing mental health and wellness means acknowledging that there is no one-size-fits-all approach and that traditional therapy does not work for everyone. However, with caseloads (and healthcare worker burnout) higher than ever, universities are experimenting with different ways to promote student mental health. 

According to the American Psychological Association, universities have responded to the increased demand for mental health services creatively to foster a culture of wellness across campuses. Since the pandemic, institutions nationwide have embraced alternative approaches to support, like group therapy, peer counseling, and telehealth services. 

Some schools utilize a stepped-care model, where the intensity and immediacy of care depend on the severity of each student’s needs. Other institutions may dedicate resources to immediate access and assessment, where students can receive a single therapy session or same-day intake. 

College Students: Seek Help at Your School and in the Community

Student counseling centers may only be staffed at a few universities to accommodate weekly therapy sessions with many students. In some cases, students who require weekly sessions or more intensive care may benefit more from a referral to a local mental health treatment provider.

Nevertheless, if you are a college student struggling with mental health or substance use, do not hesitate to reach out to your campus health services or university counseling center. Just like Dr. Gold at UT Memphis, these faculty and staff will be there to help you decide the best course of action for your health and well-being.

Consider Seeking Treatment in Tennessee at TRUE Addiction and Behavioral Health

As the UT system takes a step forward in prioritizing mental health and wellness on college campuses across the state, college students can also get help for mental health and substance use at treatment centers like TRUE Addiction and Behavioral Health in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. 

At TRUE, your treatment is tailored to your specific needs and schedule so you can continue your education as a college student while prioritizing your health and well-being. Contact us today by calling our 24/7 helpline at (615) 527-8610 or emailing