News - Alumnus Speaks Into National Conversation About Mental Health on Campus
Alumnus Speaks Into National Conversation About Mental Health on Campusby Rachel Heston-Davis
Greg Eells ’89 takes seriously his alma mater’s call to character and service. He serves the suffering in the field of psychology, tackling tough mental health topics with honesty and hope. He calls for the development of character as a strategy to survive life’s turmoil.
He also calls on colleges and universities to seriously address a growing epidemic of mental distress among students.
From Major to Career
Eells, the director of counseling and psychological services for Cornell University, has been a licensed psychologist for more than 20 years. He has worked with community mental health, for hospitals, and in private practice, with the bulk of his career spent in the field of mental health in higher education. He is a past chair of the mental health section of the American College Health Association, and past president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors (AUCCCD), winning their Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.
This wide-ranging career began decades ago with the decision to major in psychology. A young Eells arrived on GC’s campus with that major in mind and found professors like Susan Hughey-Rasler, Tom Stonebraker and Rich Beans ready to nurture his budding interest. “Their small classes and intellectual curiosity inspired me to go on and pursue my graduate degree,” he remembers.
He graduated with a double major in psychology and biology and attended Eastern Illinois University for an MA in clinical psychology, then Oklahoma State University for a PhD in counseling psychology.
Eells credits his interest in psychotherapy and counseling to Susan Hughey-Rasler, and his foundation in statistical and scientific methods to Dr. Stonebraker, who also taught him to “always question the best ways to help alleviate people’s suffering.”
A National Conversation
Decades later, Eells still puts that mindset to work. He has authored and contributed to dozens of articles addressing painful topics like suicide, emotional malaise on college campuses, the toxicity of perfectionism, and reaching those who won’t seek counseling. He has been interviewed by NPR, the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and many more, offering a clear-eyed assessment of mental health problems alongside solutions and best practices.
“It has been incredibly meaningful to be a part of the national conversation around de-stigmatizing college student mental health,” he says.
Resilient In Suffering
Not every issue comes with quick answers. Working with the loved ones of suicide victims, for instance, brings challenges even for a skilled psychologist with 20 years under his belt. Eells recognizes that suffering comes to everyone and isn’t easily fixed or dismissed.
“As human beings we must consciously choose our values and have those values guide our lives. It is the only way to survive the suffering and difficulty we all will encounter,” he says, adding, “GC played an essential role in helping me find, consciously choose and live by these values. They have been the foundation of my personal and professional life and have been a shelter through difficult times.”
Eells calls for resilience in the face of adversity and gave a TED Talk outlining this concept.
Mental Health on Campus
Much of Eells’ career has focused on mental health within the college setting. This leads him to reflect on the importance of the response from schools like GC to hurting students.
“Mental health issues cut across broad ranges of our communities and society, and I believe it is part of the Christian mission of a school like GC to address them effectively. Data has shown that more students are coming to college already having been in counseling and often on psychotropic medication.”
He shares a few thoughts on mental health for educational communities like GC:
- Smaller, faith-oriented campuses can foster the kind of social connection students need.
- Be aware that the “window for connection” can be narrower on a small campus.
- Be mindful of whether counseling services offered are adequate for the student body.
- Faculty and staff should watch for struggling students and offer hope as they guide them toward help.
Learn more about GC Alumni in the mental health world: Entering the Whirlwind—Alumnus Shows How Faith Communities Can Help the Mentally Ill
For more on mental illness in a college setting, check out the Papyrus overview: One In Four: An Inside Look at Mental Illness
Are you or someone you know interested in studying psychology? Learn about GC's psychology program.
Greenville College's bachelor of science in health psychology was ranked among the Best Online Psychology Degrees for 2015 by the Affordable Colleges Foundation. Read more about the program here.