DU community breaks down walls surrounding mental health

University of Denver students write encouraging notes to each other and leave on display in Driscoll Bridge.

University of Denver students write encouraging notes to each other and leave on display in Driscoll Bridge.

Mental wellness is an under-discussed aspect of college life. While everyday conversation surrounding mental health continues to be stifled, the concern over college student’s mental health is growing, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

Often, students struggling may want help, but are not sure how to get it. They are afraid of reaching out to those around them due to negative stigma. They are afraid of reaching out to professional help because they aren’t sure what the resources are or are afraid they won’t be able to afford counseling.

In the fall of 2015, University of Denver (DU) programs received the Garrett Lee Smith Grant, administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. This has allowed the university to expand mental health programs.

The Health and Counseling Center (HCC) is an on-campus resource that provides medical and mental health services. Anand Desai, a psychologist and the Group & Outreach Coordinator at the center, explained the multiple programs the HCC provides. In addition to individual counseling, the center has psychiatry and medicine management services, “Let’s Talk,” which is an anonymous, confidential drop-in counseling program. There are also same-day access services, where on certain days students can be seen that same day if they need to talk about something. Couples therapy is another option.

“We want students to be aware of our services. We want people to know us and know that we’re not scary people. We’re approachable, we’re here to help,” said Desai.

Some may question what the university’s role in mental health should be. When you look at the statistics, the involvement of the university in this issue is actually essential to its success. According to a survey done by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 64 percent of people who drop out of college in the United States leave due to mental health related reasons.

“Given that, I think it’s really important for resources to be sent to health and counseling centers. Its something where we need to be proactive and not reactive,” said Desai in response to this.

Fresh Check Day was a collaboration between multiple organizations on campus to promote mental wellness.

Fresh Check Day was a collaboration between multiple organizations on campus to promote mental wellness.

On April 6, Fresh Check Day set up on Driscoll Green, which was a collaboration between multiple groups on campus including the HCC, DU Mind and Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence. The event was put on to increase awareness about mental health and help educate and equip students with the resources they need.

The event was interactive and upbeat with prizes and games. Students were able to sign up for services or training on how to help others or get involved. Many felt open to talk about where their heads were at and discuss their own experiences with mental health.

“I’ve personally had my own mental health issues in the past and I knew I needed to get help,” said third year media studies major Claire Whitnah as she explained her search for a counseling center in the area that worked for her. “Looking back on it I can look at myself and see all the problems that I had and now I’m very grateful I’m getting help. If I didn’t get help I think I’d be in a worse place,” she said.

The center of the event featured a booth called “9/10”. At this booth was Leisha Chilas, a Graduate Assistant for the DU Suicide Prevention Project. She explained that one out of 10 college students will seriously consider suicide. A goal of the program and of this booth was to educate students on how to be one of the other nine that reaches out to this one individual. She stressed the importance of having a conversation with someone who is struggling.

“If you are concerned about a friend the best thing to do is to speak up even if you feel awkward about it just say, ‘hey I’ve noticed that you’ve been seeming really down lately. Would you like to talk about it?’ try to start a conversation about it,” said Chilas.

She suggests approaching the conversation directly and asking the person if they have had thoughts of suicide, then to find out if they have any sort of way they have considered doing this. If the friend possesses any means in which they could harm themselves, one should ask if they can keep these items safe themselves.

“Ultimately you want to try to convince them to go talk to somebody which is why we’re trying to spread the word about what the resources that are on campus and beyond that,” said Chilas.

When tragedy does strike, the effects reach many. When a devastating suicide occurred in the community, the leader of an on-campus organization recalls the aftermath and help members received, as many were close to the individual.

“A lot of us were trying to deal it in our own way and also help others as much as we could,” she said, “the girls saw a lot of support from the whole community.”

The resources are there, but support for mental wellness starts at the individual level, whether one reaches out to help others or seeks support themselves. The conversation around mental health has to be comfortable enough for people to express themselves. These centers, events, programs and people attempt to break down these walls and allow the community to flourish.

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