Shedding light on mental health
The conversations are difficult. The subject matter is often taboo.
But there are a growing number of WSU students determined to bring mental health issues into the light.
“Anxiety and depression are growing problems and we can’t get rid of them,” says Morgan Slack, a WSU senior. “We’ve had a 30 percent increase in freshmen students coming in with mental health issues and sometimes they’re embarrassed to go see someone for help. We want to help mediate a bridge between WSU staff, school and students.”
Slack gained insights on the subject, and the stigma surrounding it, over the summer. She interned for Washington state representative Tina Orwall, and helped set up the implementation of House Bill 1138, which Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law earlier this year. The bill calls for the creation of a task force on mental health and suicide prevention in higher education, and the development of further resources for suicide prevention.
One of the most important messages students can hear is: there are people who care.
“There are a lot of people feeling helpless and hopeless and they may not know that resources are available,” Slack says. “WSU is a great place, and I want to help people here any way I can.”
She’s not the only one. James Whitbread is another WSU student turning his experience into action. When his mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s last year, Whitbread set out to help others, and start conversations about mental illness on campus.
Whitbread led the first meeting of the National Alliance on Mental Illness on Campus at WSU last month and encourages students to join the group and make a difference.
“One in four students will deal with depression at some point, so this is in no way a small group of people,” Whitbread says. “It’s OK to talk about depression, it helps. Even if you’re not the one suffering, it will only benefit you by being more aware of those around you.”
The WSU campus offers numerous resources for students, and those concerned for their peers. The Office of Counseling and Psychological Services offers Individual and group counseling, psychological testing, drug and alcohol services, self-help, and 24/7 crisis counseling. Students have many options to get help, or help others.
Victoria Braun joined the WSU Health and Wellness Services team earlier this year as the Emotional Health Coordinator. She is the advisor for the NAMI student group, leads mental health first-aid courses, and works to raise awareness of mental health issues, and the resources available on campus.
“A lot of what we’re trying to do is ‘myth-busting,’” Braun says. “We want this to be a safe place for those impacted by mental illness—a place we can have open conversations about it.”
Looking at the statistics on mental health can be overwhelming. But Braun says we are making progress as a society, and as a University. There are many reasons to be optimistic.
“The biggest reason to be hopeful is there are so many people out there who care,” Braun says. “I think we are experiencing a culture change. People are talking about mental health, and they’re able to identify symptoms, even in themselves, and there are communities of support.”