RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- On Thursday, students at North Carolina State University enjoyed time away from classes to rest and relax.
The university has offered wellness days during past semesters, but the need is elevated this year with eight student deaths reported since the start of the school year; five were reported as suicide.
"I know someone who was there that day when it all happened and it's very tough because this isn't the first time this happened, it's not even the second time. It's a hard thing to go through," said NC State senior Rishi Misra about the most recent death on campus.
NC State reported around 7% of its students said they seriously considered suicide in the past year and around half felt hopeless or had overwhelming anxiety. This data is in line with national statistics, according to NC State.
The latest survey from the American College Health Association found that suicidal ideations and feelings of severe distress among college students have grown over the last few years.
"What we know is that people are still grieving and sort of recovering from the pandemic. We saw a lot of social isolation during the pandemic. People were home-schooled or doing school remotely," said Peg Morrison, the assistant director of NAMI NC. "There were financial implications for many families. So I think pulling out of that, people have maybe a backlog, some trauma."
Given the growing concern about mental health on campus, North Carolina universities are increasing their resources.
UNC-Chapel Hill also builds wellness days into its semester. Over the past few years, the entire UNC System reported expanding access to licensed mental health support and increasing funding for off-campus care.
Earlier this week, Governor Roy Cooper announced nearly $8 million would be allocated to universities to increase suicide prevention training and mental health services.
"I'm happy to see the state and colleges and universities invest more in mental health. Pre-pandemic we had waitlists at college counseling centers that were weeks long, maybe months long. That certainly doesn't help when people are in need," Morrison said.
While many students enjoyed working out, petting dogs and getting fresh air, others couldn't help but question if more needs to be done on campus outside of a wellness day.
"Days like this are nice but I still have three projects I have to do. I took two tests yesterday. I have another test tomorrow," said Feodor Mejoued, an NC State student junior. "I just feel like there is so much more work to do."
Morrison said she thinks wellness days are a good start.
"I definitely think there's a benefit. It puts mental health at the top of the mind. It gives students an opportunity it gives them permission to say, I have things to do. I've got a paper to write, I've got studying that will be there. But this day in particular is designed for mental health," she said.
Eric Hawkes, NC State's executive director of Wellness and Recreation agreed.
"I think we're doing everything we can to try to help people just take a deep breath and take care of themselves, whatever that means for them," Hawkes said. "I think that we're giving people lots of opportunities and resources to do what fits what they need and what they want."
In addition to wellness days, NC State formed a student mental health task force last semester to analyze short and long-term recommendations for better-supporting students on campus.
"I know that report will be coming out shortly. And I think just from my preliminary understanding of some of the recommendations it's going to be it's going to make a difference. There's no easy fix to this. We know this," Hawkes said. "You've got a group of people in the campus who are committed to making things better. And that gives me hope and promise for making things better for all of us."
Morrison also suggested North Carolina schools begin discussing mental health and suicide even earlier than college.
For parents who might be concerned about their students, Morrison suggested frequently having open conversations and direct conversations. For students, she said to be sure to take breaks and listen to their bodies.
"You want to watch your caffeine, get enough sleep do all those things that are important to your self-care, and it's different for different people. You might need structure. You might need to eat a certain way and then if you get to a point where you feel like you're in trouble, take that seriously. Listen to your inner guide and reach out for help," Morrison said.
If you or someone you know could use mental health resources, please call 988 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255
State agencies work to expand mental health resources for students as disturbing trends rise