Mental health is a growing concern among students at colleges and universities across the country, and UConn is no exception. Over the past several years, the University’s Student Health and Wellness (SHaW) department has seen a dramatic increase in appointments for crisis intervention, individual treatment, and medication management appointments. SHaW, which currently provides a wide range of mental health services, will offer another resource this fall: a new residential Wellness Community, made possible by Dan Frey ’86 (BUS) and his wife, Diana Grant.
Frey lost his daughter Alexandra to suicide in 2018 when she was just 25 years old. With her family’s support, she worked diligently in therapy and in various treatment programs over the course of a decade, but she tragically lost her life to mental illness.
“Alex was very open to treatment. We eventually found some excellent resources, but we spent a lot of time looking for those resources,” Frey explains. “It was especially difficult to find openings in good programs designed for adolescents and young adults. Having experienced the frustration of how hard it was to find the right care, and then the benefits of really good programs when she finally did find them, Alex had intended to enter the mental health field. While she did not have the chance to finish her degree, we endowed the Alexandra Frey Memorial Fund so that Alex could, in some way, still advance the cause of mental health.”
Created in 2022, the fund provides financial support for programs for students interested in developing knowledge and skills related to mental and physical wellbeing. It was established in a way that allows others to join in sustaining and growing the initiatives to improve student wellness at UConn; the fund is open for donations of any size from anyone who wants to contribute.
The Residential Wellness Community
The fund’s first initiative is UConn’s residential Wellness Community. Originally planned as a 40-student residential community on the Storrs campus, demand was very strong, and the community will instead open this fall with 56 first- and second-year students. It will provide opportunities for students to explore and support their overall wellbeing, which includes mental health. Through social events, community gatherings, and guided activities, students will develop the knowledge and skills necessary to make a positive impact on their own health, as well as the health of their communities.
This new community came from a collaborative effort. Using the financial resources that Frey and Grant provided, SHaW Executive Director Suzanne Onorato and her staff used their expertise to advance the concept.
“What was great about meeting with Dan and Diana is they wanted to hear about several different options because they really did want their donation to have impact on our UConn students, particularly related to health and wellbeing,” says Onorato. “We determined it would be about a more dimensional approach to support overall mental health and wellbeing. To me, it’s all connected. Because many times mental health manifests itself in physical ways, therefore we need to consider the whole person. By taking a holistic approach to mental health, we will explore how the student’s overall wellbeing is affected by their physical, psychological, emotional, and social experiences.”
The Alexandra Frey Memorial Fund will make an impact beyond the residential community itself. For example, Onorato envisions the students becoming ambassadors who will work with campus peers and organizations on events and programs related to wellbeing. There are also plans for case competitions and other collaborations with SHaW’s Innovate Wellness, a space for students to come together to develop innovative solutions for health and wellness concerns they see on campus. Students are provided mentorship by UConn faculty and staff to develop their skills, build out their ideas, and prototype their innovations on campus during the process.
For Frey, it all comes down to advancing the cause of mental health and removing the stigma that sometimes surrounds it.
“There’s been a lot of progress made and as much as people talk about it more, there are still a lot of people who aren’t going to be comfortable talking about it without some extra support,” he says. “Our hope is that the fund will allow more students to get the support they need, while also encouraging more students to advocate for their friends or family members who are dealing with mental health issues.
“That would be very satisfying for us, and very much aligned with the work Alex had wanted to do.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, depression, and/or suicidal thoughts, there is hope. Call or text 988 to reach the 988 Lifeline. 988 is confidential and available 24/7 to connect those experiencing a mental health, substance use, or suicidal crisis with trained counselors.