Counseling Center encourages mental health advocacy with week of awareness

Last year, the Baylor Counseling Center put on an event in the Bill Daniel Student Center for students to gain resources on mental health awareness. This week, Baylor will be hosting a variety of events in honor of Mental Health Awareness Week. Photo by Baylor Photography

By Matt Kyle | Staff Writer

For Mental Health Awareness Week, the Baylor Counseling Center (BUCC) will be hosting a multitude of events designed to bring awareness to mental health issues.

At 5 p.m. on Wednesday, the BUCC will host an Around the Table event based on suicide awareness in Room 308 of the McLane Student Life Center. The event is designed to be a space for students to feel more comfortable discussing issues like suicide and to support one another.

From noon to 2 p.m. on Friday, there will be an interactive event outside of the Bill Daniel Student Center. Students can post sticky notes on a “giant wall” with messages about mental health and the importance of mental health advocacy.

Also on Friday, Baylor will be hosting the Gil Taylor Behavioral Health Symposium on Zoom. The event will be focused on several mental and behavioral health issues, and it will feature keynote speakers Dr. Holly Oxhandler — a mental health expert and the associate dean for research and faculty development — and Dennis Gillan — a mental health advocate.

Throughout the week, there will also be a series of daily “mental health challenges” posted on the BUCC’s Instagram and Facebook pages. The challenges will be based on various mental health practices, with Monday’s challenge being based on the theme of “It’s OK to Say No.”

Dr. Kallie Kobold, a psychologist at the BUCC and coordinator of outreach services, said she hopes the events will bring awareness to mental health, encourage faculty and students to be allies to those struggling with mental health and destigmatize mental health.

“Mental health concerns are very apparent in the college years,” Kobold said. “Not only does [the Counseling Center] want to be providing services and care, but also encourage peers to be talking about mental health concerns and being a support for one another.”

Kobold said the key to being a mental health ally is to listen to and be supportive of those struggling with mental health.

“The biggest thing is being able to talk about it and listen,” Kobold said. “A lot of times, we want to have a solution or a ‘fix-it’ mentality, but really, a lot of times when people are meeting with us, they just want to be able to be heard, seen and listened to.”

Dr. Esther Hooley, a psychologist with the BUCC and coordinator of multicultural services, said 1,110 college students die by suicide every year. She said Around the Table started last year with the intention of giving students a safe space to discuss a wide range of social issues.

With Suicide Awareness Month ending recently in September, Hooley said the BUCC thought it was time for an Around the Table event to discuss suicide and mental health.

“A lot of people are probably impacted by suicide — knowing someone that they’ve lost to suicide — and maybe they want to talk about that or how they’ve moved on, healed, grieved, that sort of thing,” Hooley said. “Maybe students are scared about talking about suicide, and this is a way that they can become more comfortable. Mainly, we just want a supportive space.”

Hooley also said the BUCC wants to equip students to know the warning signs of suicide.

“One of them is social withdrawal and isolation; another one is mood changes, giving away possessions that are important,” Hooley said. “But a lot of times, someone will say, ‘I’m not feeling great,’ ‘I have thoughts of hurting myself’ or ‘I wish I could go to sleep and not wake up.’ So a lot of times, people are just vocalizing [they are] in a lot of distress — so making sure we’re listening to people when they say that.”

Last week, Active Minds, a student mental health awareness organization, set up flags in front of the SUB to represent college students lost to suicide every year. Columbia senior Daniela Olaya, president of Active Minds, said she hopes the flags helped students realize the prevalence of mental health issues in college.

“Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students,” Olaya said. “It is an alarming statistic — unfortunately it is — but it does help people realize that this is a huge problem. And even if it’s not affecting me, it might be affecting the person walking by my side.”

Olaya said Active Minds is focused on destigmatizing mental health as well as providing students with peer support and connecting them with the BUCC.

McKinney senior Sarah Mazdra, community outreach officer for Active Minds, said the key to destigmatizing mental health is education.

“With that, education is trying to show that people with these disorders are still people and that they are deserving of empathy, kindness and understanding, just as anyone else is,” Mazdra said. “Even if they are going through something really hard at that point, they’re not any less of a person than someone without a mental disorder. Their mental illness is not what defines them; it’s just something that they are needing to work through with other people’s support and help.”

This will be the second year the BUCC has done events for Mental Health Awareness Week. Kobold said the BUCC hopes to continue doing events like these every year.

Students who are in crisis or in need of support can reach out to the BUCC at 254-710-2467. The BUCC is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and is located on the second floor of the SLC.

“Our hope is to end the stigma around mental health — being able to be there for each other and kind of create a new reality around mental health and discussion around it,” Kobold said. “We’re here. We really care about the students and their well-being. We also really want them to not only know the services they have, but to be an advocate for each other and continue to be able to talk about some of these things that are going on.”