Making Space for Mindfulness Washington and Lee students can now explore the Headspace app’s mental health and wellness features thanks to the generous support of alumni Greg and Kelly Golub.
“Stress, test anxiety and lack of sleep are all things that students have to cope with on a regular basis. Headspace provides tools for helping people to deal with these everyday stressors.”
~ Kelly Golub ’93
Washington and Lee students logged more than 9,000 hours of mindfulness meditation during Winter Term on Headspace, the newest addition to the university’s offerings to support student mental health and wellness. Students now have free access to the award-winning mindfulness and meditation app’s library of meditations and exercises to support sleep, focus and stress management.
Jeff Rutter, director of the University Counseling Center at W&L, said the idea to bring Headspace to W&L’s campus arose from a meeting with Greg Golub ’94 and his wife Kelly Golub ’93 to discuss the implementation of My SSP, an online counseling service also made possible by their donation.
“We were discussing the alarming trends regarding college student mental health, both nationwide and at W&L, and they were brainstorming, ‘How can we help?’” Rutter said.
Headspace is a client of the Golubs’ consulting company, Sequoia, which offers tech-based solutions for clients’ employee programs. The Golubs have also used the app’s guided sleep meditations at home as part of their family’s routine. The group realized that this could be a useful resource to add to options already available to students through University Counseling, and the Golubs offered to fund free access to Headspace for all students.
“It is our hope that students will also seek to take a proactive approach to their mental health,” said Kelly Golub, “and that is where Headspace can really play a role. Stress, test anxiety and lack of sleep are all things that students have to cope with on a regular basis. Headspace provides tools for helping people to deal with these everyday stressors. We see Headspace as a piece of the overall wellness puzzle for students.”
Headspace is recognized as a leader in technology-based interventions for mental health and has contributed to a growing body of research on the mental health outcomes of mindfulness. The company continuously collects data from its more than 75 academic and public service partners, and it has published multiple studies in recent years on the app’s usefulness in stress management, attention and even managing chronic illness. The app provides University Counseling with data about usage and engagement on W&L’s campus.
“We’re hoping more people start to become aware of the benefits of this app where mindfulness and meditation are concerned and start discovering new ways to care for themselves,” Rutter said. “Mindfulness and meditation have tremendous health and mental health benefits, particularly in the areas of sleep and emotion regulation, that empirical research has demonstrated over and over again.”
Dave Salge, a resident in counseling at the University Counseling Center, uses Headspace as a vehicle for introducing students to mindfulness and meditation.
“Sometimes when you mention mindfulness or meditation practices to students, they might say ‘Oh, that won’t work for me,’” Salge said, “but mindfulness is a practice that gives them permission to be imperfect.”
Salge uses the app’s mindfulness features frequently in his sessions. “I like to give students exercises to explore or practice at home,” Salge said. “I think the app is good for integrating mindfulness into their daily lives.” He often explains the exercises in terms of physical therapy techniques for the mind. Salge has even recommended the app to student-athletes on bus rides to and from athletic events.
“I think the beauty of this is that, in many ways, it is student-centered,” said Jan Kaufman, director of W&L’s Office of Health Promotion. “It meets students where they are because they are very comfortable in the digital arena. They can use Headspace when they need it and in the privacy of their own living situation.”
University Counseling worked with the Office of Health Promotion and W&L’s chapter of Active Minds to create a rollout strategy for marketing the app to students. Kaufman said that working with Active Minds had already been instrumental in introducing My SSP, a telehealth service providing 24-hour support, and Let’s Talk, a program that provides pop-up counseling services in different locations around campus. Active Minds helped launch a social media campaign in early February to encourage students to download Headspace. To date, W&L’s Headspace users have logged 118,695 total minutes on the app.
“As an active user of Headspace, I was thrilled when W&L and the counseling center announced that every student could sign up for a Headspace account free of charge,” said Ruth Dibble ’22, a member of the Active Minds executive team. “I’ve found the variety of meditation courses from self-compassion to relationships to be helpful as I wind down for the day. During one of the busiest weeks of the term, I became a big fan of the sleep music to calm my mind after busy days. The partnership with Headspace is just another way that the university gives students the tools we need to succeed at W&L and beyond.”