#SameHere sit-in sparks mental health talk in Sykes theater

The event #SameHere Sit-Downs began in Sykes Theatre at 7:00 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19 with vocalist Luke James Shaffer on-stage singing, “Come Together.” He then sang, “We’re All A Little Crazy,” as a slideshow played featuring persons signing, “Same,” in sign language.  Surrounding instrumentalists included a saxophone player, bass player, guitar player, drummer and keyboardist – all were West Chester University students who accompanied Shaffer. West Chester was one of 15 colleges selected for the #SameHere Sit Down College Tours. Featured speakers at the event included #SameHere founder Erik Kussin, West Chester University sports medicine professor Dr. Lindsey Keenan and WNBA player Imani McGee-Stafford.

Erik Kussin graduated from Cornell University in 2001 and became an employee for the NBA. Later, he worked for Chicago Sky in the WNBA which he said was the “best decision I ever made in my career.” After that, he worked for the Phoenix Suns and New Jersey Devils. Despite his professional successes, Kussin stated he began to lose interest in exercising, seeing his friends and even watching television. In his words, “my brain system was shutting down and I had no idea what was going on.” He described his state of mind as a cognitive fog. He stopped answering work-related emails and isolated himself inside his office once at his job. Kussin knew he wasn’t giving it his all, so he took a leave of absence from work. Three months to recuperate turned into two years of intense mental health struggles. When describing that period of his life, Kussin stated, “I waited in hell.” He tried a wide array of medications and treatments to help him, including electroshock therapy. None helped him to the degree he desired.

Kussin had an, “aha” moment after his mother recommended he seek help from an integrative psychologist who emphasized deep breathing exercises to relieve mental stresses. The psychologist asked Kussin to retell his life struggles instead of asking him to describe his symptoms of disassociation. Kussin told her about his brother’s severe health issues, which almost cost him his life at several points.  After Kussin divulged his life story, the psychologist diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Once Kussin began to heal, he decided to share his story via the Internet. He was told at the end of the week that his story went viral, and his phone began ringing off the hook with calls from as far away as China. Kussin realized, “What I wrote clearly hit a nerve with people.” He realized multiple people struggled with traumatizing life events, and mental health issues were not a monopoly held only by those diagnosed with persistent disorders. For example, Dr. Keenan experienced issues with psychological stability before her professional career began, but can still relate to Kussin’s path to healing.

Dr. Keenan recalled her mental health struggles beginning at the onset of her college transition. Keenan found the transition into college life very difficult because of the loss of her grandmother and a romantic relationship, which both occurred in the same year. As the semester progressed, she felt withdrawn from her peers and experienced difficulty feeling excitement. Keenan also noticed she wanted to spend most of her days in bed sleeping. At first, she thought her moods represented a brief phase, but slowly she realized days culminated into weeks. She remembered saying at one point, “I feel like I should be better now.” When Keenan finally sought help, her therapist diagnosed her with a form of depression called readjustment disorder,.

Later in her life, when Keenan experienced postpartum PTSD, she already possessed coping mechanisms to assist her through the difficult time. She stated the most crucial part of her coping process entailed recognizing a problem existed in the first place. Seeking help came second.

Reflecting back on his experience, Kussin pointed out that multiple schools host assemblies featuring informational speakers discussing the dangers of drugs. In his opinion, a gap existed in those informational sessions, because he didn’t “learn about why we turn to drugs.” In essence, Keenan believes everyone undergoes mental health issues at some point. Though most people make time to exercise and take of their physical health, Keenan pointed out most people don’t schedule time for positive mental health exercises. Keenan stated, “You might feel good, but how about feeling great?”

Doménica Castro is a third-year student majoring in Communications.

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