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Mental Health Day of Discussion: Changing the Culture

CHARLES FREY ’19 | SENIOR STAFF WRITER •Sometimes,talking makes all the difference. This statement has been a recurring theme across campus for the past three years, and was further shown during Monday’s mental health “Day of Dialogue.” Planned, organized, and hosted by the Public Health Organization (PHO), the Mental Health Concerns Committee (MHCC), and the Global Health Initiative, the event focused on listening student stories and hearing professional/semi-professional advice. The day was a smashing success, as both lunchtime student talk and evening panel were packed with students and faculty.

Austin Weirich’s death in 2016 brought men’s mental health to the forefront of Wabash’s consciousness, and great strides have been and are being taken with the formation and continued devotion to the Mental Health Concerns Committee. Other strides come from Freshmen Orientation, where mental health is emphasized during orientation week, even partnering with Wabash Democracy and Public Discourse to encourage personal discussions on the topic well after orientation ends. With Evan Hansen’s death at the beginning of the semester, the campus has created a quasi-coalition to take a proactive stance on destigmatizing mental illness and promoting positive mental health. And with the discussions held, the new push from students in attendance was, “Talking is not enough, we want action.”

The questions during the evening panel, which consisted of Dr. Patrick Burton, Associate Professor of Biology, Jamie Douglas from the Counseling Center, Head Coach of the soccer team Chris Keller, and Keith Owen, Class of ’20, did center around actionable steps – What is it that I, individually, can do? When is it a good time to intervene if I notice something? What type of curriculum could be added, whether in college classes or in earlier grades? How do I get the courage to stick up for my friend if I see they are being self-destructive? How can we make sure international students are represented when talking about these things? What can I do?

By and large, the resounding answer was simple. Keller, part of the evening panelist said, “Continue to care. Ask, ‘If you need anything else, let me know.’” Owen, the student speaker in both panels, added,

“Be interested in the other person’s story.” Douglas emphasized encouraging follow- up appointments. So step one; continue to care, continue to ask. No matter how bad somebody feels, even if they push people away, continuous care is the first step – one that Wabash has taken to heart in any number of ways. The sentiment that carried the most weight, though, came from Owen Doster, class of ’20 and President of the Mental Health Concerns Committee. “The three words, ‘I love you’ are way more powerful than you think,” Doster said. Showing love at an all-male campus might be tough for some, but love – genuine affection and care for another person – is easier to cope with than tragedy.

 

The highlight of the day, though, came from the student stories during the lunchtime talk. Maxwell Lawson ’19, Jared Timberman ’21, and Owen gave testimony of how mental health and illness affected their lives while at Wabash. Lawson began with a story of how his mental health physically made him sick – a pain in his side due to stress and anxiety. Ignoring the problem for a long time, he eventually went to the campus doctor. Upon closer inspection, they sent him to the Counseling Center, where he learned the problem was mental health, not physical. “It breaks you in a way you never thought you could be broken, so you’ve got to take it seriously,” Lawson said. Step two, take mental health seriously. No matter the affliction, mental, emotional, or physical, even the smallest wrench in the cogs can alter an entire person’s life and lifestyle.

Timberman’s story focused on personal struggles and how certain events, even
if they are out of a person’s control, can alter one’s perception of themselves and their problems. “I have been held to a high standard ever since I was young,” Timberman said. “When I fail on one thing, I feel like a failure.” Sophomore year was the turning point for Timberman, where things just built up, from school, to home, to wrestling. “I felt alone and reached a breaking point,” Timberman said. “But, I spoke with my brothers here and they jumped to help. Sometimes you might feel alone, sometimes you might cry, but know there are always people there for you.”

Step three, jump to help (and if this were a chart, step three “b” is “it’s okay
to cry”). Sometimes the signs of distress are not easily seen. When they are, each person that is there to help should offer it. It is hard sometimes during the school year to prioritize others above schoolwork, but something to keep in mind is this, schoolwork will always be there. A chance to listen may not be.

Owen closed the talk with advice on how changes in lifestyle can improve headspace. “Eat meals. Get a night’s worth of rest. Talk with a friend,” Doster said. “These are three things that everyone can do, or strive to do, daily.” This advice tied in with other comments Owen made during the evening panel, namely his avocation for a change in

campus culture. Step four, cultivate culture. If the entire campus focused on getting three square meals a day, 7-8 hours of sleep a night, and daily intentional interactions with friends, the stigma of illness just might disappear. A lofty goal, but as Lawson said during his talk, “It’s not going to get better overnight.” The best action students can take is to care for themselves daily and help a friend if they ask for it. Hopefully over time, things will get better.

This day, though, would not have been possible without Abraham Kiesel ’20 and everyone he has brainstormed, talked, and interacted with over the past six months. Although not a member of the MHCC, Kiesel had the opportunity as the Public Health Organization’s Vice President to organize this event. “A lot of brainstorming happened back in the spring with Mrs. Douglas,” Kiesel said. “We tightened up ideas this fall, brought it to PHO leadership, then determined who to invite for the student panelists. We pitched the idea to Owen Doster, Jill Rogers, and Dr. Wetzel and everyone liked the idea, so we ran with it.” Many hands make light work, and Kiesel could not emphasize enough how much he owed to those that helped him along the way. “I mean, that was a main takeaway from the talks,” Kiesel said. “You need to rely on others for help.”

Step five, rely on each other. Regardless of how hard things are, rely on each other to help get through it. No matter what, Wabash is a brotherhood. Wabash always fights, and that means fighting for oneself and fighting for a brother. No matter what, Wally’s fight together, and that is the most important step to remember. (If you have any feedback on the event or would like to reach out to help with future PHO events, contact Abraham Kiesel at ajkiesel20@wabash.edu).