SGA pushes to reduce stigma around mental health

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Through intentional conversations and a peer training workshop this Monday through Wednesday, Student Government Association (SGA) representatives and faculty are encouraging students to embrace mental health issues and reduce the stigma around seeking help.

“We want to create a safety net where the community understands the warning signs clued into mental health and are willing to reach out to those around them to ask them how they are doing,” said Brad Stewart, associate director for wellness education.

One in four college students is affected by mental illness and suicide is the second leading cause of death on college campuses, according to a study published in the Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, but many students, faculty and staff are hesitant to talk about their mental health.

On Monday, SGA will advocate for men’s mental health, followed by a push to start conversations among students Tuesday and a workshop featuring a student panel Wednesday.

Infographic courtesy of TCU SGA.

At the workshop, several students will discuss their personal mental health stories and create a forum for students to ask questions and learn from their experiences, SGA director of mental health Jacque Lenarz said.

Depression, relationship issues and anxiety are the most common mental health issues facing TCU students, according to Dr. Kristen Harris-McDonald, psychologist at the TCU Counseling and Mental Health Center.

By age 25, 75 percent of all chronic mental illnesses has begun, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Infographic courtesy of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

However, some students, faculty and staff feel a stigma associated with receiving help.

“Students like to pretend they have it all together and can handle everything by themselves,” said sophomore finance major Olivia Chambers. “Dependence is almost seen as a weakness.”

The TCU Counseling and Mental Health Center encourages students to view mental health and physical health in a similar way.

“If you broke your leg, you would visit a physician and allow the leg to be treated so it could heal,” Harris-McDonald said. “Diseases of the brain are no different.”

However, sophomore Neeley School of Business SGA representative Ryan Chandler recognizes the stigma, especially among men.

“Men in our society are expected to not show their emotions and to man up, as we’ve heard growing up,” Chandler said. “Be a man, don’t cry. We have this repetition of suppressing our emotions, which is dangerous because it bottles up and then you burst.”

Men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Therefore, Monday is devoted to opening conversations about men’s mental health.

SGA representatives Ryan Chandler and Katie Kovarik promoting Mental Health Awareness Week in November 2018. Photo courtesy of Ethan Mito.

This is an issue that hits close to home for the men of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity after the death of sophomore Andrew Walker last semester and they are partnering with SGA in distributing cookies, stickers and t-shirts to promote conversations about mental health.

“Anything to help people get out of the darkness, anything we can do to live for him is what we are going to do,” Chandler said. “I think we can use tragedies like this to make a positive change.”

Leaders across campus will be using their voices and tabling materials to make a change and leave an impact in shaping the culture around mental health.

“Cookies are not going to save the world, but if one of these turns into one conversation that truly does save someone, then it is worth every penny of our efforts,” said SGA president Abbey Widick.