September is National Suicide Awareness Month
By Wes Hamilton
Mental health is a topic not often talked openly about, and students who suffer from mental health issues tend to isolate themselves, often not seeking help. Several groups on campus are teaming up to help put an end to those trends.
The Sam Houston State University Active Minds chapter has plans underway for a campus wide mental health awareness week titled “Help Helped Me,” in collaboration with Psi Chi and the Psychology Department. With a series of events taking place during the first week of October, the student-led organizations will focus on fighting the stigma surrounding mental health.
Maria Holmes, associate dean to the Honors College and faculty advisor to Active Minds, says just talking through things is a huge first step.
“The whole idea of Active Minds is to provide information and awareness about mental health and to also let students know that it is ok to go ask for help,” Holmes said. “We want to provide lots of resources, make sure it is very visible to students and provide support groups that continue to talk about this issue.”
The SHSU chapter of Active Minds was founded in 2013. The group strives to raise awareness about mental health disorders and encourage students to seek assistance or advice when needed. Organization President and SHSU junior, Alex Cuellar, says the group is dedicated to helping others and building awareness.
“It takes passionate students to run this organization,” Cuellar said. “Because this subject is something that not a lot of people are comfortable talking about.”
Through their meetings and events Cuellar is hopeful to get a clear message out to students.
“It is OK to not be OK,” Cuellar said. “Do not be afraid to seek help, or if you see a friend struggling be sure to help them too. We do not want people to feel alone on this issue or to isolate themselves.”
One issue college administrators battle across the country is getting students to open up. SHSU has countless resources to engage with anyone that may need them, but the first line of defense tends to be peers.
“Students are more receptive to other students reaching out and that is what I like about Active Minds,” Holmes said. “This organization equips our students with the tools and resources to help, because a lot of times students are not as open with administrators and faculty.”
Students tend to over stress during testing periods as well. That is where groups like Active Minds step up to try and help ease anxieties.
“The most successful thing we do is usually stress relief activities during finals week,” Cuellar said. “We will bring in therapy dogs, because it is hard to be stressed out while petting a dog, they are a very calming presence. Another popular activity is helping students make their own stress ball. Any event with our name on it will let students know that we are active on campus and we can reach out and help more students that way.”
Drew Miller, licensed psychologist and executive director of SHSU Counseling and Health Services, sees groups like Active Minds and Psi Chi as essential to good mental health for students.
“It is important for students to be involved and we are so grateful to have Active Minds and Psi Chi chapters on our campus,” Miller said. “There is so much stigma about seeking mental health help. Having peers who are advocates for seeking help, having peers who are brave enough to admit their struggles, and explain how therapy or counseling has helped, can do so much to normalize that. We could not do that without our student partners.”
September is national suicide awareness month. In a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers found that suicide rates in nearly every state in the United State rose from 1999 to 2016. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death, but is one of three leading causes on the rise, according to the CDC. Miller explained that many people who need help have become adept at hiding or even minimizing the stress they have. Miller also emphasized that it takes intervention from those who know the people struggling.
“Suicide prevention is best when it is a community-based intervention,” Miller said. “The resources we have on staff are not with these students every day. We aren’t with them in the classroom, in the residence halls, in the dining halls, to see how they are doing day to day. It takes those friends, roommates, faculty members and parents who are seeing them on a consistent basis and can notice changes that could be indicative of risk.”
A study from the American College Health Association showed that 73 percent of college students say their parents are their leading influence for health-related information. The SHSU counseling center hosts QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) training, which is aimed at informing faculty, staff, students and even parents on the front lines of being able to help those in need.
“It is a simple three-step process that people can learn to better intervene when they find they are talking with someone who is living with suicidal thoughts,” Miller said. “It helps give important things to look out for and language to use in order to get people connected with help. We have found that most people want to help others they see struggling, but it can feel overwhelming if you lack the language to use. This training will give a practical skill set to help others should they be notice someone in need.”
QPR trainings are generally given about once a month, with the next meeting scheduled for Sept. 11 at 4 p.m. in the Lowman Student Center Room 302. However, should a student, faculty or staff group want to schedule a separate meeting you can contact Charlotte Jackson in the University Counseling Center at 936-294-1720. You can also find more information about resources at the Counseling Center through this link.
Active Minds meets once a month as well, with the first chapter meeting also set for Sept. 11 at 6:30 p.m. in the Lowman Student Center Room 321. Students interested in joining or helping the SHSU chapter are encouraged to call 214-957-2486 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.