The next edition of Lafayette Lens covers work-life balance, mental health among student-athletes, how college students are coping during the pandemic, and myths about mental health
By Bryan Hay
Students studying political and policy issues this semester with Prof. Mark Crain explored mental health issues, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic, for the next edition of Lafayette Lens to be aired June 29, 7-8 p.m., on PBS39 and repeated July 3, 4-5 p.m. The show can be viewed online through PBS39’s livestream link.
Titled Trying Times: Containing America’s Mental Health Epidemic, the program unveils a series of student-produced video essays that examine a range of topics, including mental health resources in the Lehigh Valley, work-life balance and mental health, mental health among student-athletes, how college students are coping during the pandemic, and debunking myths about mental health.
Crain, William E. Simon Professor of Political Economy and chair of policy studies, and Caroline Phillips ’21, the student producer for Trying Times, discussed and debated a number of potential topics for the spring 2021 edition of Lafayette Lens.
“We ultimately elected to focus on mental health for several reasons,” Phillips says. “Preliminary research provided alarming data about the sheer magnitude of the mental health problem. Our public scholarship relevant to the mental health crisis, reaching millions of potential viewers on PBS39, might offer help to people who are suffering and trying to navigate tumultuous times.”
Producing Lafayette Lens is a considerable undertaking that requires the collective effort of Lafayette students and faculty working in concert with senior staff at Lehigh Valley Public Media, home of PBS39.
“It was my belief that many students, or their friends or their families, were experiencing mental health issues,” Phillips says. “In other words, students involved in the production would be passionate about the project on a very personal level.”
As the final product reveals, this belief proved accurate, she says.
“We hear heartfelt testimonials from Lafayette students openly sharing their personal storms,” Phillips says. “We hear students offering encouragement, advice, and messages of hope and compassion for others who might be suffering.”
Crain punctuates the powerful emotions in the students’ work.
“As I reviewed the interview tapes, I remembered the Robert Frost quote, ‘no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader,’ ” he says. “The student interviewers were visibly moved by the unvarnished expressions of pain and grace.”
Co-hosted by Callie Wortmann ’22 and Taylor Madeiros ’21, the program also features observations and analyses from Lafayette faculty and staff about causes, consequences, and coping with mental health burdens on campus and beyond. Making appearances on the broadcast are Gladstone Hutchinson, associate professor of economics, John Shaw, associate professor of psychology, Susan Wenze, associate professor of psychology, William Bissell, professor of anthropology, and Julie Amato, Lafayette sports psychologist.
Some of the subject area experts tapped by students include Erin Reilly, chief social impact officer at cloud-communications company Twilio, who discusses how companies incorporate mental health and wellness into the workplace; Dr. Chris Floris, vice president at Janssen Research & Development, LLC, who describes how coronavirus affects the brain; and Cameron Rogers ’13, a social media influencer who addresses how social media affects mental health.
One of the most powerful and enduring lessons of Trying Times is how much the pandemic has elevated the willingness of young adults to discuss mental health openly and without shame, Phillips says.
“I’m so grateful I’ve had the chance to work as the student producer this semester,” she adds. “Although we have faced challenges due to the remote completion of the broadcast, it has been so rewarding, and I can’t wait for the premiere.”
The production of Trying Times is central to Phillips’ policy studies honors thesis, for which she was named a recipient of the 2021 Barge Oratorical Prize.
Crain, along with Nicole Crain, who is now professor of economics at the National Defense University, formed a partnership with PBS39 in 2012 to produce coverage of the national elections. The partnership expanded since then and now includes Lafayette Lens, a half-hour series covering issues of global importance.
Links to all editions of the broadcasts are available on the policy studies website: policystudies.lafayette.edu/students-produce-lafayette-lens-at-pbs39/