Mental Health Awarness Group Starting on Campus

A new student group is emerging on campus to “raise awareness for mental health issues and combat the stigma associated with mental illness” — services that many campus say are much-needed.

Last week, Student Senate unanimously voted to approve a campus chapter of the National Mental Health Awareness Alliance [NAMI] as an official student organization. The president of the group, Troy Weathers, ‘17, said the Wittenberg NAMI chapter will work to educate students about mental health, promote early detection of and intervention with mental illnesses, connect victims with services in the Springfield community and fight stigmas associated with mental illness. All of this, according to Weathers, will be done by students, for students.

“We want to start a student-powered movement,” Weathers said. “We want to let students know that there are people who care about them on campus.”

Weathers said he aims to achieve these goals by sponsoring events and creating “peer-to-peer safe spaces” where students can talk to each other about anything impacting their lives in a non-judgmental environment.

NAMI’s emergence on campus comes at a time when mental health is becoming an increasingly prevalent issue in colleges around the nation. According to a 2013 survey conducted by The Association for University and College Counseling Center (AUCCC), 95 percent of college counseling directors said the number of students with significant psychological problems is a growing concern on their campus. According to a 2011 American College Health Association (ACHA) survey, just less than 50 percent of surveyed students reported feeling that things seemed hopeless, and one out of every three students reported experiencing extended periods of depression in the last 12 months.

Linda Lauffenburger, director of Wittenberg counseling, said she has seen a similar uptick in mental health issues on campus in recent years — especially those related to stress and anxiety.

“College is a time of dramatic change, [and] our society is putting more and more pressure on students to perform,” said Lauffenburger, who has served as director of counseling at Wittenberg for 20 years. “This leads to overwhelming stress, which can lead to depression.”

Though Lauffenburger said the university has a strong safety-net for students facing mental health issues, she said that NAMI’s emergence on campus is welcome news. Lauffenburger said that no matter the issues faced, whether they are diagnosable disorders or time management concerns, talking about them can be very helpful — a function she thinks NAMI will serve well.

“Mental health issues are very manageable, and sometimes talking through them can be just as effective as medication,” Lauffenburger explained. “People [suffering from mental health issues] need to know and hear that it can get better, and this can be especially helpful when coming from peers.”

Kate Polak, visiting assistant professor of English, is particularly supportive of the group. Some of Polak’s doctoral work focused on psychoanalytic and psychological theory as it is applied to literature, and she said the student-based aspect of the group is important in fighting the stigma she said is associated with mental illness — a stigma that, according to her, places an unfair amount of responsibility on individual victims.

“We need to be careful not to blame the victims of mental illness,” Polak explained. “These issues are illnesses, and the illness aspect needs to be emphasized.”

Lauffenburger, too, noted a stigma surrounding victims, but said that it has diminished in recent years due to improvements in research, treatment methods and awareness.

“Our society has done a better job of realizing that these are physical-based disorders,” Lauffenburger said.

If students are interested in becoming involved with NAMI, Weathers encourages them to contact him at weathersm@wittenberg.edu. If students are concerned with their mental well-being or interested in hearing more about the university’s available resources, Lauffenburger encourages them to contact her at llauffenburger@wittenberg.edu.

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