North Carolina university giving students 'wellness day' to address mental health

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is giving students the day off from classes on Tuesday to focus on their mental health.

"I encourage every student to use this time to rest and to check in with each other during that day," Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said in a statement Sunday. "Reach out to a friend, a classmate, or colleague and ask them, ‘honestly, how are you doing?’"

Students lobbied for the day off after reports of two deaths by suicide, according to local reports. 

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"We are in the middle of a mental health crisis, both on our campus and across our nation, and we are aware that college-aged students carry an increased risk of suicide," Guskiewicz continued. 

The university will also make counselors available to students, faculty and staff throughout the week.

Guskiewicz also announced a mental health summit later this month to address the mental health challenges for college students. He also plans to launch a website dedicated to promoting mental health awareness. 

Guskiewicz delivered his announcement on World Mental Health Day. World Mental Health Day is a day for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy, according to the World Health Organization. It was first celebrated in 1992 at the initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health, a global mental health organization with members in more than 150 countries.

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Studies have shown the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated college mental health. In one September 2020 survey, 71% of college students indicated increased stress and anxiety due to the COVID-19 outbreak. According to the survey, their stressors included fear and worry about their own health and of their loved ones, difficulty in concentrating, disruptions to sleeping patterns, decreased social interactions due to physical distancing, and increased concerns on academic performance.

The University of Michigan highlighted some ways college students can cope including taking breaks, finding a way to still connect with others, maintaining a routine, practice good sleep hygiene and being okay with their feelings. 

If you or a loved one is feeling distressed, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The crisis center provides free and confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to civilians and veterans. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or text HOME to 741-741 (Crisis Text Line).

CLICK HERE for the warning signs and risk factors of suicide. Call 1-800-273-TALK for free and confidential emotional support.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. This story was reported from Los Angeles.