Lend a Hand

At Minnesota State University Moorhead, Kara Gravley-Stack is leading efforts to put students' mental health and basic needs first.

In November 2021, the Minnesota State Legislature passed the Mental Health Services and Resources initiative. This bill funds Minnesota public universities to support students needing  basic resources and mental health awareness through two grants per college to focus on each area.

As the Dean of Students, Gravley-Stack’s office is fundamental to coordinating and supporting students through various campus services. With her active leadership and passion for others, she was excited to take action.

According to a survey done by Boynton Health Service at the University of Minnesota in 2021, they found that among MSU Moorhead students, 53.7% report being diagnosed with at least one mental health condition within their lifetime, and 27.5% report being diagnosed with at least one mental health condition within the past 12 months during the time of the test.

“Mental health is a huge issue that can create barriers for students to remain at school,” Gravley-Stack says. “The more we can do to address those concerns, the greater likelihood those students can remain in college.”

The funds MSUM received funnel into two grants; one focuses on mental health efforts. Campus put out a call to faculty, staff and students to learn mental health first aid. This centers on spotting the signs of someone facing mental health struggles and leading them to a helping hand.

Six faculty and staff participated in an intensive workshop, which qualifies them to hold this training for others. They continue to perform and coordinate this training for many across campus.

Kara Gravley-Stack, Dean of Students

“It’s like CPR,” Gravley-Stack says. “We’re not diagnosing the problem, but we can see there’s a problem and understand how to initially help someone in need.”

She views this training as a way of humanizing the struggles people go through. She understands the benefits of reaching out to someone and wants to end the stigma that comes with having mental health issues.

"We need to recognize that people have mental health challenges and it’s more common than we think,” Gravley-Stack says. “Someone can be struggling for many reasons, so recognizing that this is a human being who needs help and carrying empathy can help destigmatize it.”

The second grant focuses on providing resources for students’ basic needs. With on-campus services like the Dragon Pantry, emergency housing, and Counseling Services, MSUM continually enhances campus resources and connects students with local services when needed.

MSUM’s core value of heart plays a pinnacle role in these efforts. Being able to go the extra mile for the community fuels the university’s purpose.

“Our core values are all about people,” she says. “This is about how we can be a resource and an advocate for somebody around us.”

With the state taking action to recognize and support mental health advocacy and better access to basic needs, this is only the start for Gravley-Stack and her team.

“The more we can spread the word, the better,” she says.

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