Students, faculty and counselors gathered at the It’s About Time event Tuesday to discuss the stigma surrounding mental health, suicide and self-harm.
About 95 members of the SRU campus community attended the event, hosted by the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance (FMLA), Active Minds, Gender Studies Club and Psychology Club.
Starting off the discussion was Kenneth Messina, newly appointed director of the Counseling Center. Messina talked about the ins and outs of the counseling center and answered common questions that students have about counselors and appointments.
“The [counseling] center is the busiest it has ever been,” Messina said.
Messina believes that is due to stress from students which is the number one reason college students visit the counseling center. As of last year, 2018, the limit of five counseling sessions per semester was revoked and students may now attend as many sessions as they feel needed.
Messina elaborated about the on campus resources the counseling center provides, such as group sessions, but also discussed off campus resources that students may be referred to.
“We can’t do everything,” Messina said. “Sometimes with the scope of the service, we aren’t the best option.”
However, Messina ensured that students should still feel welcome to visit the counseling center for issues ranging from problems with a roommate to suicidal thoughts.
The counseling center has staff that are dedicated to open hours, where students with an emergency can walk in and be seen that day. Messina said the center sees about five to seven walks ins a week.
“We have to make sure that everyone’s safe,” Messina said.
Transitioning from available on campus resources, the discussion followed a format of answering prompted questions in small tables and then coming together to discuss the questions on a larger scale.
The conversation jumped into the stigmatization of mental health, suicide and self-harm and most of the students believed that the stigma behind mental health being a choice is a common misconception.
“People think that mental health is a choice, and that’s not the case,” Nicole Tolliver, a senior psychology major and coaching minor said. “You can’t make people talk about it.”
One student said that mental illness doesn’t pick people based on who they are or what they look like, but that it affects everyone.
The discussion not only addressed the stigma surrounding mental health in general, but narrowed to the stigma around sucicide as well.
Cindy LaCom, a gender studies professor, said that the stigma surrounding suicide is that others should be aware of the signs.
In alignment with the topic of suicide, some students believed that telling people they need to check up on their friends is a way of blaming, redirecting and magnifying suicide.
Language is part of the stigma too, believes Kourtney Kotvas, a senior dual major in psychology and gender studies and president of the Gender Studies club.
“Saying, ‘I’m going to kill myself’ is an easy go to when something is bad,” Kotvas said. “People aren’t taken seriously when they say it.”
One student believes that people add a factor of humor when dealing with their mental health because it’s normalized in American culture. However, a majority of students agree that the stigma surrounding mental health, suicide and self-harm is that nobody wants to talk about it.
Students in attendance believed that there are a few factors to the current stigma around mental health.
Christina Donatelli, a junior dual major in early childhood and special education on the international track with a minor in professional Spanish, wonders how much she can say without being detrimental to the person who is listening.
Many students believe that it’s difficult to open up to strangers on a personal level but it’s also hard to open up to close friends in fear of being looked at differently. One student said that they didn’t want to look broken, which made it hard to open up to everyone. Other students felt that talking to others about their problems would become a burden to those listening.
The concept of males and females talking about mental health was briefly discussed, and it appeared to be a common theme that females opened up to males and visa versa on occasions.
“I personally overshare, even though it may not make perfect sense to share with those I’m talking to,” said Maggie Calvert, a senior triple major in political science, philosophy and gender studies and president of FMLA. “I don’t want my friends to look at me differently. I usually talk to a man because a man validates my feelings which means more to me, because men aren’t allowed to have feelings.”
Calvert referred to a previous statement earlier in the evening where she mentioned the stigma about repressing feelings surrounding men and mental health.
Students in attendance not only believe that mental health impact males and females, but that it is an issue among SRU students as well.
One student in attendance said that there isn’t one specific way to deal with mental health, which makes it more difficult for those that don’t want to seek help.
Students and professors mentioned various coping mechanisms to dealing with mental health; alcohol, drugs, hook-ups and food. Some students said that they spend time helping other people with their problems because it can distract them from their own.
“You need to make sure that you’re checking on your friends, but you also need to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself,” psychology major Tolliver said.
Students not only agreed that taking care of yourself and others is important, but that those struggling with mental health should own what they’ve been going through in order to open up to others and allow others to open up to them.
Amanda Reichert, a sophomore Psychology major and president of the Psychology club believes that students are vulnerable to anxiety and depression when entering college. Reichert’s personal struggles root from her classes and everything that she has signed herself up to do.
“I think it’s really hard to acknowledge that you are struggling with a mental health issue, while always trying to help others,” Reichert said. “It comes down to, you have to want to seek help, you have to want to help yourself as well as wanting to help others.”
Reichert, along with other students on campus and leaders of organizations, is not the only one who struggles with depression and/or anxiety.
Calvert, President of FMLA was diagnosed through the on campus counseling center with anxiety and depression.
“It’s something that I have had for a while, but I was able to seek help at the university which was very helpful,” Calvert said.
Calvert encourages students who are nervous to go to their first counseling session or meeting to ask a friend to walk them back and let someone else know that they started counseling.
Similarly, to Calvert, Reichert agrees that students may struggle with opening up to a counselor.
“When I went to my first counseling session, I struggled a lot with it and I didn’t want to go back,” Reichert said. “After I went back and kept going, I found it easier to open up and talk about mental health with this counselor.”
All three presidents of the perspective Psychology Club, Gender Studies Club and FMLA said that their general body meetings touch on aspects of mental health, but in a more intimate setting.
“We need to keep talking in our circles and we need to keep showing up,” Calvert said. “…Even if we aren’t seeing events, at least we’re having the conversation.”
Students at the event and Reichert, Kotvas and Calvert ensured that their perspective clubs would be more than happy to point students in the right direction.
“Don’t be afraid to reach out,” Calvert said. “Someone will be there for you.”
Students, professors and others in attendance encourage those to keep the conversation going to bring people’s voices together.
“Even having these conversations in your everyday life is so important,” Reichert said. “The more we normalize these topics..the easier it’s going to be, the less stigmatized these issues will be and the better off we all are in the end game.”