BY ALEX JUAREZ
Last Tuesday evening, the Fort Hays Honor Society hosted a Mental Health Panel – a part of Disability Awareness Week. The panel was designed to help spread awareness of people and students around the Fort Hays and Hays community about mental health.
The panel discussed learning to fight stigmas of physical, mental, and developmental disabilities – as well as psychological disabilities. One of the biggest issues students with mental health struggles was the outbreak of COVID-19. It was explained that students and people alike, had the sense of feeling out of control and couldn’t control the outcomes of what COVID-19 does. That and being drifted away from the friends and families made at Fort Hays State University were noticeable causes of mental health dilemmas.
According to the panel, this caused a lot of anxieties throughout the year because of feeling isolated and losing control of what students used to do in their daily lives. The schedules have been interrupted through isolations because of COVID-19. The panelists explained that the only way students learned to be with each other was through being connected virtually.
The panelists also discussed what can be done to improve the fight against stigma? The answers were people referring friends through sharing conversations with them on social media, texting and calling them, etc. When students are facing mid-terms of exams, homework, public speaking, or any other situations, they can take a break and spend time reflecting on who they want to be and what they want to do during their time here in Fort Hays.
Another question raised was what about students who leave or graduate from Fort Hays? The panel said they can reach out on mental health hotlines anywhere they go or have a phone conversation ahead of time with family or friends.
The panelists also spoke about how can we be a good support system to those who are struggling with disabilities or mental health? One of the panelists, Bob Duffy, explains that we can reach out to those students or anyone if they are okay.
“It’s best to connect with them and let them know that we can be there for them,” Duffy said.
Fellow panelist and Case Manager for Health and Wellness services Jessica Albin, mentioned that individuals can make themselves available to those struggling with mental health or disabilities, and needs to listen, too.
“We need to be that person who listens,” Albin said. “We should say things like ‘I don’t know what to say right now, but I’m glad that you get to talk to me.”’
She also says to not say things like “I’m worried about you,” because saying like that really aren’t engaging or helping them out. Overall, the panel wanted attendees to know they must make sure that students are surrounded by the people who love and trust them and making sure to remind themselves to look at where they are in the semester.
Albin went on to explain that there are different ways to cope with mental health concerns that students are experiencing.
“There is not one avenue to seeking treatment or seeking healing that’s going to be best for everyone,” Albin said. “It’s really seeking psychological support, social support, and emotional support, making sure they’re getting enough sleep, they’re eating right, exercising etc. You can’t just realize that one specific avenue to healing or having strong mental health and we need to look for all different aspects.”
Students learned that it is sometimes hard to reach out to students who have mental health struggles because of how they want to be left alone to help heal themselves without knowing what will occur. So how can we help them out if reaching out is sometimes difficult?
“I think one of the most important things that we can do to support someone who is experiencing mental health is to be a good friend, a good listener, and a trustworthy person,” Albin said. “It’s best to spend time asking somebody how they’re doing, and paying attention to how they’re doing, even with the things that are not verbal communication but to communicate the concerns if that person has them in a non-judgmental way.”
Albin went on to say that even if someone has a mental health concern that’s just a good way to live and a great way to be a good friend.
The panel said the best way to find resources of addiction, mental health, or any other issues students are dealing with is to go to the Health and Wellness Services website. The website has a variety of options for supportive counseling, as well as, medical services, and accessibility services to stay healthy and supportive.
Students can schedule a free appointment to get the help they need and can also access screening tools for depression or anxiety. Finally, the panel displayed “honor beads” to signify the different types of loss an individual can have in their lives.
Students and on-campus community members are invited to choose the beads that are relevant and meaningful to them. The cards are a different project to provide some educational materials about the mental health benefits of hope and resilience. Students and on-campus communities are encouraged to write on the cards to either who or what gives them hope and what helps them to be resilient, and Health and Wellness Services will make a collage in the memorial union for the month of April.