Out of the darkness, into the light of day

For too long, mental illness and depression remained hidden in the darkness. But the Oregon State University center for Counseling and Psychological Services and the Office of Student Affairs wants to shed light on the topic.
Larry Roper, Vice Provost for Student Affairs, said broaching the topic was important to the campus community
“We’re trying to normalize discussions about mental health issues,” Roper said. “They affect our community on so many different levels.”

For the second year, they’re organizing “From Darkness to Daylight,” an event that offers the campus the chance to talk about mental health issues. The event takes place Feb. 9, and includes a seminar on alcohol and mental health wellness, a book discussion with author Ross Szabo, and a lecture by Szabo on “What Happy Faces Are Hiding.”

Ross Szabo

Ross Szabo

“We want to deepen people’s knowledge about various dimensions of mental health and related issues,” Roper said.
Not only is the period of late teens and early 20s a time when many people first face mental health problems, but Roper said because of advances in medication, many people who would have previously been unable to attend college are now stable enough to come to the university, but are not necessarily always successful despite their medications.
Jacqueline Alvarez, director of OSU Counseling & Psychological Services said addressing mental health concerns is crucial on college campuses.
“Mental health issues affect our ability to be learners and scholars,” she said, “and if we want to be our best we have to tend the whole person.”
Many students struggle with depression, debilitating stress and other issues, to such an extent that 10 percent of OSU students have had serious thoughts of suicide in the last year, and 1.5 percent, or 320, have actually attempted suicide. Alvarez said she considers those numbers to be epidemic.
She said that our current obsession with quick fixes makes many people focus only on the medical components of mental health management, but studies show that medication taken in conjunction with counseling is far more effective. And for young people who are still laying down neural networks, learning how to manage stress and anxiety through counseling might drastically change their ability to cope as adults.
“If you lay down a depression reaction to stress, it’s very hard to change that pattern (later). That’s why the counseling piece becomes an imperative part of treatment,” Alvarez said.
A newly formed student group at OSU, Active Minds, has helped organize the Feb. 9 event. It was students who chose to bring Szabo to campus. Szabo is the director of the Youth Outreach for National Mental Health Awareness campaign, and is co-author of a book on mental health.
The Division of Student Affairs has created a new listserv called Active Minds Allies for people who are interested in knowing about mental health events. People may subscribe at http://lists.oregonstate.edu/mailman/listinfo/activemindsallies
The schedule of events follows:
Alcohol & Mental Health Wellness, a discussion with Ross Szabo, 9 to 10:30 a.m., MU Ballroom
“Behind Happy Faces: Taking Charge of Your Mental Health, a book discussion and Q&A with Szabo, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., MU Lounge
“What Happy Faces are Hiding,” a lecture on how societal stereotypes can lead to increased loneliness, isolation and suicide, by Szabo, 7 to 9 p.m., MU Ballroom
~ Theresa Hogue

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