The third and final session of the mental health forum, organized and run solely by senior business management major Bailey Leet, took place on Nov. 29 in Sykes 210. This specific session followed the presentations on depression and addiction by focusing on the topic of anxiety.
Being in the honors college, Leet had to select the topic for her capstone. “I am very passionate about mental health so I chose the topics of depression, addiction and anxiety because they are either things that I have dealt with personally or witnessed others dealing with,” said Leet.
Leet expressed that she wanted to do these forums to help abolish the stigma people have about mental health, reach out to others seeking help and to inform people on ways to help those afflicted with a mental illness.
When the forum began, everyone sat in a circle and went around and introduced themselves. Leet lead the discussion by sharing her own story. When she was finished she opened the floor and encouraged others to share. A few participants shared their own experiences while others benefited from simply listening and asking questions.
“It can really help for people to talk to peers rather than just doctors,” said Leet. “I try to make everyone as comfortable as they can be here.”
This educational forum welcomed those who deal with mental illness and those who wish to learn more. “I give out a recap survey at the end of each session and for the most part people have benefited from these forums. People leave here with ways to help others or sometimes just feel better about themselves,” said Leet.
“Hearing that it’s okay to not be okay, having a good support system and sometimes that medication isn’t always a bad thing were some beneficial points I got out of this anxiety discussion,” said attendee and senior public health promotion major Zaharaa Davood.
Davood expressed that she would also like to see more of these peer-to-peer discussions happen more often, especially because comments in the circle conversation are confidential. This makes the environment even more inviting for people to come and talk.
With finals on the horizon, the subject of anxiety becomes even more prevalent on college campuses. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, NAMI, about 75 percent of mental illnesses develop by age 24, with one in five college students being reported to develop a mental condition during their college years. Given the fact that most people attending college are in the 18-25 age range, college years are critical for maintaining mental health.
Another statistic from NAMI says that in the past year, 30 percent of students in the U.S. have reported feeling so down that they felt as if they could not function for some period of time.
Elements of Behavioral Health is a company based in California that works nationwide to provide people with assistance and treatment resources to those struggling with addiction or mental illnesses in their local area. According to a study they conducted in March of 2017, anxiety has become the number one mental illness among college students with the statistics rising each year.
A study was also done by mental health professionals at Penn State University in 2016. The study they conducted consisted of a sample of 100,000 college students across the country who were seeking help for a mental illness on their college campus. The results of this study showed that 61 percent of these students were seeking help for some form of anxiety.
Even though the statistics and numbers of anxiety along with other mental illnesses are rising, as Leet stressed throughout the duration of the forum, “It is okay to not be okay.”
The counseling center at WCU offers many different and helpful resources such as individual counseling for personal or vocational problems, group counseling, crisis intervention, psychiatric services, consultation, outreach, drug and alcohol counseling, alcohol awareness education and identifying distress.
NAMI suggests that one of the best ways to help others who have a mental illness is to offer support and listen when needed. Everyone is different and handles situations differently, so it is best to find what works best for that individual and proceed accordingly.
For more information and the full list of resources the WCU counseling center has to offer, visit: https://www.wcupa.edu/_services/stu.cou/default.aspx.
Stay tuned for stress-relieving activities around campus come finals week such as multiple visits from the therapy dogs.
“Mental illness, no matter what it is, it should be treated just like a physical illness. If you don’t want to go to class because you have a cold, you should have the option to not be able to go to class because you’re just feeling a little overwhelmed or anxious. I think once we stop seeing mental illness as this weird taboo, people will open up more and we will start seeing more survivors,” said Leet.
Mackenzie Haverdink is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies. She can be reached at MH850486@wcupa.edu.