The ‘Let’s Talk’ program starts a new conversation about mental health at TCU

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A challenge to make a difference at TCU may change the campus conversation on mental health.

“Let’s Talk,” a program designed to remove the stigmas centered around formal counseling was introduced on campus this semester. The program offers confidential counseling sessions across campus, including walk-in appointments for students who might just need to talk.

The push comes as the number of students seeking help continues to rise. From Aug. 1 to Oct. 31 over the past three years, the counseling center experienced a 32 percent increase in the number of students seen, according to a report published by the TCU Counseling and Mental Health Center.

Providing more alternatives for counseling and actively encouraging students to seek help might alleviate the level of anxiety among students, said Chuck Dunning, director of the senior year experience, who is the professional consultant for “Let’s Talk.”

“For a lot of our students, they feel it is very important to keep up an image for their family, for their friends, for their professors and for their future employers that they are perfectly capable of dealing with everything in life all on their own,” Dunning said. 

“Let’s Talk” is meant to remove some of the barriers to access for care. For example, students seeking mental health services won’t have to fill out paperwork or schedule appointments, as the primary focus is on walk-in appointments.

Hopefully removing the formal process will encourage more students to ask for help who otherwise might not have, said Joe Spellmeyer, a junior accounting major, who worked with Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Kathy Cavins-Tull to establish the first counseling outlet on campus.

Spellmeyer said he became interested in mental health while completing his Impact Project for the BNSF Neeley Leadership Program.

“Our professor challenged us to find a problem in the community that we cared about and kind of do something about it,” Spellmeyer said. “Mental health in adolescence and TCU particularly was something that really nagged me as an issue I wanted to do something about.”

Dunning’s office, Tucker 003H, is the first “Let’s Talk” site on campus.

“We’re also in a location that is more convenient for students,” Dunning said. “We are where they are now.”

Dunning said providing an alternative for formal counseling is important.

“Not all students need formal counseling,” he said. “They just need someone to sit down with to talk to and have a quick check-in to come up with some coping mechanisms for whatever it is they’re dealing with.”

Students are still guaranteed the same privacy and confidentiality as formal counseling.

“Let’s Talk” is a good first step for students who don’t want to schedule an appointment at the mental health center, said Annie Beeson, a junior supply chain and business information systems double major.

“It makes it a lot less scary, especially if it is your first time,” said Beeson, who was also part of the Impact Project. “Then if you realize how helpful it is going to the actual counseling center won’t be as terrifying.”

Dunning said even though the counseling sessions take place outside the walls of a traditional counseling center, students will still receive an experience that is focused on them.

“I think the main thing is that we want to see more students take advantage,” said Dunning. “But in terms of them personally, I want them to see that TCU is an institution that is interested in finding ways to meet them where they are and to provide services that meet their needs.”

In 2012, TCU was awarded the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Campus Suicide Prevention Grant by the U.S. Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration. Wolszon said the grant sparked an increase in mental health prevention throughout campus.

“It’s getting teachers, parents, friends and faculty to tell students it’s okay to seek help,” said Wolszon. “Basically, we’re asking students to seek help and they are.”

Removing the stigma

Schools across the country are working to implement alternative options for mental health services as a way of removing the social stigmas that are centered around formal counseling. Dunning said the stigmas originate from society’s attitude that asking for help is a sign of weakness.

“There are a lot of students who for one reason or another are hesitant to seek formal counseling,” said Dunning, which is why he said removing the documentation associated with routine appointments will urge more people to get the help they need.

Spellmeyer said one of the main reasons behind bringing “Let’s Talk” to TCU was to help uncover and disassociate the stigmas that stem from formal counseling sessions.

“I think that’s a great benefit of ‘Let’s Talk’ is that you don’t have to worry about running into someone in the waiting room or worry about people seeing you going in and you don’t have to schedule an appointment ahead of time,” he said.

Wolszon said she believes the solution rests on the continuation of open conversation.

“If we stop talking about it, if we just decide okay we don’t need to talk about it, then I think the stigma would rise because people would just start kind of thinking if you don’t talk about it then it must be unspeakable,” she said.

In hopes of sparking a spiral effect, Beeson said effective dialogue starts with the sharing of personal stories.

“One of our goals is to try and be very open with our own mental health struggles so that if we talk to somebody else about it they might have the courage to go and talk to someone else about it,” said Beeson. “I think something big is just getting the students the help that they need.”