Quinnipiac's discussion on mental health

By Jenelle Cadigan

Mental health awareness was the topic of discussion this past Monday night at Mind Body Soul -- the second series of the Your Voice Our Quinnipiac events.

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Student government organized the event and the Student Veteran Organization (SVO), Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA), and Quinnipiac’s new chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) all co-sponsored, with input from student health services as well.

“Stress relief is good for everyone, but especially right now preparing for the holidays … and preparing for finals … it can be very difficult to balance the academic goals and the personal goals,” said Kerry Patton, Director of Health and Wellness at Quinnipiac. “Managing and learning techniques on how to take care of yourself is really important.”

Patton also discussed with the audience the fact that mental illnesses are not always seen as equal to physical illnesses.

“If someone’s struggling with a certain medical diagnosis we tend to react to things a certain way, and if someone’s struggling with a psychiatric or mental [diagnosis] it seems like it’s different,” she said.

Tatyana Youssef, vice president for student experience, wanted the event to be a way to end the stigma.

“Wherever you’re at in life, mental health is real,” said Youssef. “It’s prevalent. It’s in our society. You know, in previous generations it’s always been there but it was taboo to talk about.”

But students were ready to talk about it. They got up in front of their peers and shared personal stories about their struggles.

Alex Hartman, a member of SVO and army veteran, shocked the audience with his story about his biggest failures in his life, the first being a suicide attempt.

“The first time I tried to kill myself I was 16,” he said.

Hartman described his method to hang himself, and his failed plan. He had tied a bed sheet to a ceiling fan, put it around his neck, and when he let go, the fan couldn’t hold his weight and he fell to the ground.

But it continued. Years later, in the army, Hartman made a second attempt – his “second biggest failure” as he describes it. He said the barrel of his gun was in his mouth, when his friend walked through the door and asked him to go play basketball outside.

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“That was the hoop that saved my life,” Hartman said.

Jordan Atchley, president of SVO, also got up to speak.

“I found out my sister was killed in a drunk driving accident I was 12 years old,” he said. “We had just gotten off for Christmas break.”

Atchley explained that that day, he saw his parents “crumble” and he felt he had to be strong for them, so he internalized all of his pain and sadness in order to support them. But then, tragedy struck his family again.

“I was a sophomore in high school, my brother had just gotten back from Iraq, and they told us that he had liver cancer,” Atchley said. “Little did we know he had a year left to live. So when I was a junior in high school, I lost my brother.”

The two tragedies led him to engage in risky behavior, like racing motorcycles. He said he wasn’t trying to kill himself, but he didn’t think it’d be such a bad thing if it happened. Then, he joined the military, which he says taught him a lot about resilience, and allowed him to redirect his emotions towards something good.

Atchley is now studying to become a lawyer.

“One day I hope to change the laws that allowed the guy that killed my sister to be out of jail in three years,” Atchley said. “That’s the driving force behind me.”

Amanda Herbert, SVO Member and Air Force veteran, spoke about the importance of noticing lifestyle changes in yourself or those close to you, as it could be a sign of depression.

“You’ve been taking more naps. You’re just sleeping more in general but your sleep isn’t as good, so you’re sleeping more. And then you’re so tired that you need that candy bar or some kind of not really nutritious snack to get you through the next hour or the next class or the next thing,” Herbert said. “You start living in these one little hour time slots and forgetting that you have a body that you need to nourish so that your mind and everything else can follow through.”

According to Patton, student health services has seen about a 33% increase in the amount of students filling out intake forms for counseling appointments. She says the top three things students come to counseling for are anxiety, depression and relationship issues.

“I think it’s normal to feel stress every day,” Patton said. “Sometimes stress motivates us, sometimes anxiety motivates us. These are natural feelings that you’ll experience.”

Patton said the most important thing is being able to manage your stress at a healthy level so that it doesn’t overwhelm you.

“Yes you need to study a lot, you might need to prepare for a paper or an exam, but [you need] to also take that time for yourself, even if that time is ten minutes … to take care of yourself,” she said.

And while you’re taking care of yourself, don’t forget to do your part to help others too.

“Even the smallest little things that you do for other people can have a huge impact,” said Peter Chlebogiannis, president of Quinnipiac’s chapter of NAMI. “Even an extra second, an extra hello, an extra smile, an extra wave. A lot of us are going through a lot of hard stuff and the more we can be there for each other the better.”