By Audriannah Horne
“The counseling center is not a scary place.”
Randy Scott, mental health counselor at the University of Washington Bothell, hopes that is the No. 1 takeaway for students after they’ve listened to The Crow’s Nest, a podcast he produces for the Counseling Center.
“Sometimes you just need someone to talk with,” he said, “and that’s what we’re here for. After students listen to some of the episodes, I hope they get the feeling that we’re accessible and available to them.”
Listening to student needs
The podcast began as an advocacy project for Scott’s doctoral program in Counselor Education and Supervision at Walden University in Minneapolis. With the growing need for resources that support well-being, Scott chose to focus his project on mental health.
“Although we have been emerging from the pandemic for some time, students are still catching up with readjusting to the rigors of college life,” he said. “From the conversations we have with them, it’s clear they want information on mental self-care.”
Equally clear, he said, is that students emerged with a hunger for new ways to receive information. The Counseling Center often tables at various events on campus, offering literature and snacks to encourage students to learn more about the free services counselors provide.
“While this traditional approach has worked, we’re finding that it can be intimidating for students to initiate contact, especially after spending so many months in isolation,” Scott said. “They want information without having to ask for it. Sometimes they want it from a distance.
“We need to accommodate that.”
Speaking from experience
For his project, Scott wanted to make it as easy as possible for students to access what they needed “because there are a lot of things we ask students to do.”
His goal was to deliver information in a way that students could easily take in, such as while coming to campus on the bus, running on the treadmill at the Activities & Recreation Center or taking a break between classes.
Before entering the field of education, Scott spent nearly 20 years as a radio broadcaster. He knew the power of the medium as a means to distribute information and to share stories. Developing The Crow’s Nest was a natural solution. The podcast — billed as “conversations from the University of Washington Bothell campus about mental health, social justice and student success” — launched at the beginning of autumn quarter 2022 and has been a huge hit.
Its popularity is due in part to Scott’s approach. He draws from his radio background to connect with his audience, knowing that by sharing his own story and vulnerabilities, it will encourage and embolden students to do the same.
“It’s important to normalize sharing what we’re going through, not only the good but especially the not-so-good,” Scott said. “As I talk about my experiences, I hope students will think, ‘Wow, if this counselor can share something so personal and private in such a public way, maybe I can, too” and then take the next step and make either an in-person or virtual appointment.”
You are not alone
Podcast episodes have revolved around various student identities and aspects of campus life. One of the most popular is named after the three areas that students most often want help with when they come to the Counseling Center: Depression, Anxiety and Stress, all related to mental health.
“We needed to broach these topics with students who weren’t already coming to us to show them that they are not alone,” said Scott.
Suicide Prevention, the last episode of Season 1, has been the most downloaded thus far — 50% more than any other episode. This was not a surprise to Scott and the other counselors, because suicide has traditionally been a taboo topic.
“People get nervous talking about it. In our society, we have this idea that if you talk about suicide, you’re going to plant an idea in someone’s head,” he said. “But research shows that is simply not true.
“What is true is that students need to know that having this conversation is okay, because it’s a critical step to getting the help they need for their mental well-being.”
Another popular episode is LGBTQIA+ Mental Health on Campus, released in October after National Coming Out Day. It amplifies the challenges of coming out and provides ways to overcome different experiences and responses.
Scott reinforced the notion that students don’t need to have all the answers about their identity. “When you come to not only the Counseling Center but also the Student Diversity Center, nobody’s going to ask or expect that you have everything figured out. For students to hear that is really powerful.”
The First-Generation College Students & Parenting Students episode is Scott’s personal favorite. Being a first-generation student himself, he knew all too well the daunting challenges students face when coming to college without familial history in or connections to higher education.
Because of the ethos of the UW Bothell campus, Scott also incorporates an element of social justice into each episode. “One of the reasons I came to work at UW Bothell (in April 2022) is that social justice and equity are part of its DNA,” he said. “Our students hold these values close, and they hold us as staff and faculty accountable to uphold them.
“Through the podcast, we demonstrate that issues such as individual mental health have a collective societal impact,” he noted. “By addressing these concerns, students can become social change agents.”
Passing the torch
A second takeaway Scott hopes for is that as students listen, they realize that their voices and stories are important. And they soon will have new opportunities to make their voices heard.
After the positive response to The Crow’s Nest from students and the campus community, counselors are planning to extend Scott’s project into a second season. Their goal for the future of the podcast is to have more students become involved and share their stories.
“We would love for students to be in charge of the next iteration. It doesn’t have to be me hosting,” Scott said. “The Crow’s Nest is now an established vehicle for conversations about mental health in its many forms, and students will benefit from hearing student voices. We all will.
“If the podcast went on to have 5,000 episodes with topics that affect students’ well-being, I’d be so happy because these hard conversations need to be had.”
The Crow’s Nest podcast is available on more than 10 streaming services. Learn more about additional services available at the UW Bothell Counseling Center.