Northwood University student steps up to address mental health concerns

Mental health services have seen a gradual increase over the last decade as more people seek services from providers and advocates work to end the stigma that surrounds mental illness. Many of those who are diagnosed with mental illness or find themselves in a mental health crisis are college students.

According to a new report (Jan 2023) from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Pennsylvania State University based on data from counseling centers at 180 colleges and universities, representing nearly 200,000 students, trauma and social anxiety are both increasing among college students seeking on-campus mental-health treatment. Increased social media usage and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic with the return of  students to in-person learning may have contributed to the marked rise in social anxiety. In regards to trauma, colleges and universities have improved their reporting policies over the last ten years when responding to sexual assault and, as a result, more students feel confident that they will be heard and action will be taken.
 The mental well being of students is a concern on a college campus.
As colleges and universities work to improve mental health services for their students, peer-to-peer and advocate groups are also being formed by students and staff across the country. Northwood University graduate student Lauren Bennett saw the need and created the “I Hear You Project”, but it did not start in Midland. “My undergraduate program was completed at Malone University, a school with about 1,000 undergraduate students. While in my 3rd year at Malone, after the pandemic, I realized how understaffed our counseling department was to handle the mental health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. I had the opportunity to go to a leadership conference in Chicago in November of 2021 because I was the president of SAAC (student-athlete advisory committee) at Malone. While at the conference, surrounded by other leaders across the country, I heard about the Bandana Project. That project was started by student athletes, and focused on getting student athletes QPR (question, persuade, refer) trained to help provide resources on campus,” Bennett says of what inspired her to take action. After completing her undergraduate program at Malone University, Bennett chose to enroll in the master’s program at Northwood University and bring her passion project with her.
 Lauren Bennett leads the "I Hear You Project" at Northwood University.

The I Hear You Project is a mental health project focused on getting students and staff at Northwood University Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) certified to become educational resources and servers of mental health help on campus. The certification itself is an 8-hour training that takes participants through educational information such as common mental illnesses in adults, creates an action plan for crisis situations, and walks through simulations of real-life scenarios. Not only will participants be able to help others, but they will also be equipped with knowledge and self-awareness to help themselves.

"We are excited in the Northwood Counseling Center to say that we have officially started the I Hear You Project as of February 9, 2023. Twenty-three members of our Northwood Family got mental health first aid certified so that they could become resources for themselves and others. If you see a green tag on anyone’s bookbag, door, sports bag, etc., you will know that they are a safe space to talk to, and they are crisis trained. These people are not certified counselors and cannot diagnose anyone, but they are all here to listen, even if they don’t know you. We stand together with our Northwood Family to show that mental health matters,” says Bennett.
Bennett recently connected with Andy Sovis, Director of Counseling at Northwood University, and immediately gained his support. Sovis, who has been with the university for about a year and a half, created an intern position in the counseling office for Bennett to help develop and launch the project.  The team is preparing a second virtual training that will be held in the coming weeks. After both training sessions are completed, there will be approximately 40-50 students, staff, athletic staff, trainers, and coaches certified on campus. “This idea is sparking a lot of other opportunities and initiatives for our students and staff. We are really excited to provide additional services and offerings,” Sovis shares. “What started as a project will become a Registered Student Organization (RSO) on campus. We will be able to get the word out and will be able to support more students in Midland. They need help.” Sovis is the acting staff advisor of the club and will oversee the RSO.

The Northwood women's basketball team wore their support for mental health during warm-ups at a recent game.
This is just the beginning for this much-needed group as they create more resources and education for mental health on campus. The project creates more leaders, diversity, and knowledge. It teaches to identify, understand, and respond. As more students are trained, more counseling services will be on campus. “Counselors aren’t always there when you have a breakdown or lose a big game; students are,” Bennett shares when she is presenting to peers, faculty and staff. Bennett wants students to feel comfortable seeking out other students as counselors because students are the best advocates for each other.

Based on the report from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Pennsylvania State University, reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education, about 3 percent of students who used campus counseling services between 2017 and 2022 dropped out of college voluntarily. That’s according to data from about 156,000 students who sought treatment at 95 institutions. Some demographic groups were found to have higher dropout rates are students with diverse gender identities, students with disabilities, first-year students, and military veterans. Students who identified as racially diverse, transfer students, first-generation students, and international students were less likely to withdraw, on average.

Students will be able to help others after they receive the certification. Students need other students who are like them. Students must first be nominated to attend the in-person training provided by MHFA. The goal of the group is to make this training as common as being CPR trained. The training will be held annually and will be customized for students, staff and faculty. The certification is valid for three years and is provided free of charge to participants as the project recently received a grant from Northwood University alumni.

The I Hear You Project was presented to Northwood University’s alumni giving circle, Project 100, last November and was awarded $10,000 to offer the certification training and fund the cost of materials such as shirts, stickers, and handouts.  Each member of Project 100 must commit to donating $100 per semester. The Alumni Project 100 group meets and distributes funds once each semester. Bennett’s group was selected over two other student proposals as members voted via a voting app. The I Hear You Project will be eligible to compete for funds again in one year.
In the next several months, the I Hear You Project will be presented at sporting and student events. Sovis will be sent  to a mental health certification training to become a certified trainer. The group will offer training to the entire student body, staff, and faculty this fall. To learn more, please contact Andy Sovis via email at

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Read more articles by Carly Lillard.

Carly Lillard moved to the Great Lakes Bay Region in 2007 from Traverse City. Since that time, she’s graduated from Northwood University and worked in fund development and communications for a variety of non-profits including Shelterhouse and Holy Cross Services. Currently, Carly is working to complete her Master’s Degree from Michigan State University in Strategic Communication. When she’s not writing, you will find her spending time with her husband, Jesse, and two children, Maycie and Elias. Carly can be reached at