DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – An ambitious effort is underway on the campus of UNT Dallas to help change the culture surrounding mental health issues, raising awareness and erasing the stigma.
Students are being trained to spot signs of distress among their peers.
“We always want somebody to be committed with us, to help us, to know that ‘hey we’re in it with you–you’re not alone,'” said a UNT Dallas junior we will call Mary.
Mary is not her name. But, she has lived this issue. She shared on Thursday that she wants to remove the stigma attached to mental health issues, and she is not yet ready to publicly admit how close she came to becoming a statistic, saying that weather was a metaphor for her fragile mental health.
“It felt like a cloudy day,” said Mary of her battle with depression. “The sun shone around it, but the cloud never went away. It was that cloud that was saying ‘you’re worthless….. you’re not good enough,’ so it was like ‘what was the purpose? What was the point of even being here?'”
Feeling helpless and hopeless, two years ago Mary attempted suicide. She says it was particularly hard to find the courage to seek professional help as a member of a minority community, saying that typical responses to such outcries were “Oh, no, we don’t do THAT.. that’s not what we do. We pray about it. Or just get over it.”
She got a therapist instead and says she is now doing better, but she admits it’s a journey. “Even though a lot of those things have not changed for me… I want to live,” she said.
And Mary wants to help others. She’s one of a couple of hundred students having already gotten on campus suicide prevention training called “Kognito.” It’s just one of the resources being brought to the campus after sociology professor Dr. Syeda Jesmin secured a $300,000 grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA).
“How to approach a peer who is distress? How to persuade that person to seek help? How to handle a conversation,” explained Dr. Jesmin, who added that the goal is to have students change the culture surrounding mental health: on and off campus. She says many students have reported back that they now feel more confident and comfortable about what to say to someone who may be struggling.
“They are our gatekeepers,” said Dr. Jesmin. “They will go to high schools, the churches and other places and spread the message that there is no health without mental health.”
Because clouds do clear.
“I have my days,” admitted Mary. “But, I try not to allow my mind to trick me into saying that it’s not gonna get better, because it can. And it will.”
A mental health awareness day is planned on the campus for Monday, April 22. A variety of events are planned from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. in Founder’s Hall including training, screenings, a movie and discussion. Information will also be provided regarding community resources. The community is invited and encouraged to attend.