Mental Health Awareness Month hopes to connect with students

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Many students on campus have heard murmurings about the official “Mental Health Awareness” month at the University of Dallas, but remain unaware about its value or its pertinence to the UD campus.

The inspiration for the event came from two students, MaryJane Plote and Jennifer Brady, then seniors, who approached the Office of Student Affairs before the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year.

They actively took on leadership roles and pushed for an event that they felt would contribute to the students at UD.  The results of their work, and the theme of this month, is now a part of campus life for the second year running.

While Mental Health Awareness Month was initially observed in May, the Office of Student Affairs decided that September would be a better time.

September is a time of transition,” Seth Oldham, director of Student Life, said.

“Many students are struggling to adapt to being back on campus, whether it is their senior year and they are starting to stress about the looming job search, or if they are freshmen struggling to adapt to college.”

“Being a freshman and coming as a new student to college can be really stressful, so I feel like mental health awareness is a good thing to have,” freshman Eileen Rauh said.

The events of the month include: “Pet the Pups”,” “The Notecard Project” and a series of dialogues held on key themes such as “True Self and Mental Health” and “Carrying our Crosses for Love.”

The Pet the Pups event took place in Haggar on Tuesday, Sept. 4, and the constant flow of people around the pet station was a testament to the event’s success.

“We know from research that petting dogs and cats actually releases stress,” Doug Scott, a counselor at UD, said. “It totally does. While we were there for that hour and a half, people from all over were coming up. You could almost see a relief happening.”

Students took study breaks by climbing into the pen to greet the dogs, or jumping out of the cafeteria line right before lunch.

The attention from the event was geared toward generating interest in the other events of the month.

The Notecard Project is the next big event, wherein students participate by anonymously sharing both their struggles and some comforting words by writing on note cards in Haggar.

“The Notecard Project is very special, because students allow themselves to be vulnerable and write encouraging words to others who are going through emotionally tough times,” Scott said.  “There is something healing about being in solidarity with peers who share their burdens and encouragement anonymously.”

The project facilitates a culture of care and support that draws together students who share similar burdens, whether it be stress, time management or issues with family and friends.

“I like empowerment a lot,” freshman Maggie Fazio said. “I especially like the idea of making someone feel a little better about themselves.”

While the events are exciting and geared toward stress-relief and a positive community culture, the deeper currents of thought behind mental health awareness are incredibly pertinent to students at UD, whether they realize it or not.

“To be quite honest, mental health awareness is important for everyone,” Scott said. “I have found that a lot of students don’t actually know that mental health is important at all, and I also have found that some people are brought up in an environment where they are implicitly or explicitly taught to not talk about what’s going on if there are any problems.”

“A lot of people are somehow affected by mental health awareness, whether you’re struggling with it yourself or you know someone who is struggling,” sophomore Isabelle Smith said. “I feel like there’s often a certain stigma that’s attached to mental health issues, because people don’t always know what it entails or what it’s like to live with someone who has mental health issues. But it’s important to talk about these things.”

The key element of mental health awareness is maintaining  healthy dialogue and remaining open to sharing one another’s burdens.

“If we can impart to everyone that talking with us, or any caregiver, is actually a sign of courage and strength, then that is about the best outcome we can hope for,” Scott said.

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