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Health & Wellness Services Division of Student Affairs

Student story: Advocating for mental health

Student story: Advocating for mental health on campus

Written by James Whitbread

Washington State University is a special place for many reasons. The community atmosphere here pulls and keeps people together, while we are still in school and after we graduate. This university presents its students with multitudes of professional development, humanitarian, volunteer, social justice, and many other opportunities. Being from WSU fills me with a sense of pride, and Health & Wellness Services (HWS) contributes greatly to this.

For two years, I have been a mental health awareness advocate, working tirelessly to improve our campus community and make it one that is accepting and understanding of mental illness and mental health difficulties. This would not have been possible without HWS. Victoria Braun, a health promotion specialist and suicide prevention coordinator that works there, has been invaluable to this goal.

Two years ago, when I approached Victoria with an idea to start a registered student organization for mental health awareness, she immediately jumped on board. Through the development of our current organization, To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) WSU, Victoria has been an adviser and friend who has helped in innumerable ways. We have organized everything from simple tabling events all the way to a mental health awareness week in collaboration with HWS and ASWSU. Our crowning achievement so far has been a spoken word event entitled “Hope”, during which a dozen performers of everything from music to spoken word shared their experiences with mental health difficulties in the context of hope for the future. It was a highly-attended event, and audience feedback indicated it was a meaningful experience.

Victoria’s impact on the community has been great, but so has her impact on me. Oftentimes, I find myself thinking of things through the way she would. I wonder about what she would think or say, how she would respond to the situation. Her instruction and teachings will stay with me, and her expertise and ability to impart knowledge so easily show how high-caliber and useful HWS is because of the people it employs.

I am passionate about mental health advocacy for a myriad of reasons, but one of the most significant being that it is a profound need on college campuses around the nation. My hope is to destigmatize mental health difficulties, and to get students to start the conversation concerning mental health. It is only by achieving this that we can create a compassionate and understanding community, and HWS has been integral to the progress we have made.

Even outside the realm of mental health advocacy, the health promotion team at HWS works tirelessly to keep students healthy in every way. Being a holistic wellness facilitator for HWS, I have witnessed this first-hand and been able to contribute. Taylor Schwab and his team have created pertinent and meaningful workshops, presentations, and events to promote healthy lifestyles for the benefit of the students at WSU. Participating in these and working with HWS as a facilitator has given me an appreciation for preventative medicine.

The work of people like Taylor and Victoria is incredibly important to the overall health of the WSU community, and being able to work with them has taught me the importance of health promotion, constant learning, professional development, and many more aspects of health that has prepared me for my own future. As a pre-med student hoping to become a physician, the experiences I have had with HWS have been learning opportunities I will not soon forget.

James Whitbread is a senior at WSU completing a B.S. in theoretical mathematics, having completed minors in sociology, chemistry, molecular biosciences, and biology. Throughout his time at WSU, he has worked as a student leader in mental health advocacy and health promotion, and hopes to be admitted to medical school this year to practice a holistic approach to medicine as an M.D.

Show your support for suicide prevention

12 ways to participate in National Suicide Prevention Week

National Suicide Prevention Week is happening September 10 – 16, 2017 and there are numerous ways you can show your support!

At WSU, we want to create a supportive community that encourages people to get help when they experience a mental health concern or thoughts of suicide. Mental health issues are a normal, common experience. It’s okay to ask for help and there are resources on campus to support you and your friends.

Join your fellow Cougs and others around the nation to work towards the common goal of preventing suicide. Here are some ways you can promote mental health and prevent suicide any day of the week.

  1. Add the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to your phone and follow them on Facebook or Twitter.
  2. Learn about how you can support a friend who is struggling with a mental health concern.
  3. Do something positive for your mental health. You might try some creative self-care or enjoy some exercise, the outdoors, time with friends, or a healthy meal.
  4. Join WSU’s chapter of To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA). TWLOHA is a nation-wide nonprofit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide.
  5. Find out what the warning signs for suicide are, and what to do if you’re concerned about someone in your life.
  6. Sign up for suicide prevention training Campus Connect or take this training online.
  7. Fight the stress of school with some extra self-compassion.
  8. Sign up to get personalized stress management tips by texting “STRESS” to 30644.
  9. Subscribe to our email list to get more information about mental health and suicide prevention at WSU.
  10. Try meditating today. Mindfulness meditation can help reduce anxiety, depression, and stress, while increasing happiness and quality of life.
  11. Participate in the University of Idaho’s, “We got your back” suicide awareness 5K.
  12. If there’s someone you’re concerned about, take a minute to check in with them and ask how they’re doing – it could change their life.

Exercise and your brain

Exercise and your brain

Many of us know exercise is good for our physical health, but did you know it can also improve your brain and help you perform better in school?

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. If that seems like too much, don’t sweat it! Even exercise as simple as walking can benefit the brain.

Here are some of the ways exercise helps your brain stay in shape.

Memory. Do you have a big test you’re preparing for? Try exercising a few hours after studying. Research shows exercising after you study can improve your ability to retain information.

In the long-term, regular exercise increases the volume of your prefrontal cortex, which is the area in the brain that deals with memory and thinking. Researchers have also found exercise can help lower risk of dementia, a condition related to memory loss.

Mental health. Studies show exercise can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Specifically, one study found that aerobic exercise, like jogging, helped patients cope with depression.

If you think you might be experiencing symptoms of depression or another mental health condition, make sure to talk to a health professional. Counseling and Psychological Services has walk-in hours or you can meet with your Health & Wellness Services provider.

Overall wellness. Regular exercise can help you sleep better, increase your energy level, and offer mental health benefits. Exercise helps you feel better all around – not just physically.

Do you need help finding fun ways to recreate or do you want to improve your overall fitness? Check out what University Recreation and the Outdoor Recreation Center have to offer.

If you’re struggling to find time to exercise, be sure to check our previous post about fitting fitness into your schedule.

Get stress management tips

Get stress management tips

Feeling stressed, need help coping, or just want tips for managing your stress? We can help!

Join our text messaging program and we will:

  • Check in with you every week to see how you’re doing
  • Send you weekly tips for lowering stress
  • Enter you to win a prizes like a fitness class pass, UREC coupon code, and more
  • Share information about health-related events and resources around campus

To sign up, text “STRESS” to 30644. You can join at any point in the semester!

You can also check out our stress management workshops and other programs.

All RAs take suicide prevention training

All RAs take suicide prevention training

Last week, we trained all 167 resident advisors (RAs) in suicide prevention through our Campus Connect program.

Campus Connect is the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) best practice program  we chose for educating Cougs about suicide and how to respond to someone in crisis.

Campus Connect participants learn about the warning signs for suicide, how to refer someone to appropriate care resources, communication and relationship building skills, and how to ask someone if they’re having thoughts of suicide.

Returning RAs who’ve previously attended Campus Connect took a refresher course to ensure they’re up-to-date on best practices in suicide prevention. These students also shared about their experience with implementing what they learned in the previous year and how we can improve our program in the future.

90 percent of new freshmen live on campus, and RAs play a key role in helping new students transition to college life. While there are many challenges new students encounter, some may struggle with thoughts of suicide.

When all RAs take suicide prevention training, we’re able to help connect students who need help to the appropriate care resources.

We’re extremely proud of all our RAs and the broader WSU community’s commitment to suicide prevention and mental health promotion. Since its implementation last year, over 460 WSU staff and students have taken Campus Connect.

Are you interested in helping a student in crisis? Sign up for Campus Connect or Mental Health First Aid.

How to identify warning signs for suicide

How to identify warning signs for suicide

Knowing the warning signs for suicide can help you notice if someone you care about is at risk for suicide. When you’re familiar with these signs, you’ll know when to be concerned and you’ll feel more confident in your ability to help someone who’s struggling.

Warning signs for suicide are not black and white. Everyone is a little different and it’s possible for someone to experience some or all of the typical warning signs.

The key to noticing warning signs for suicide is to look for changes in a person’s mood or regular behavior. These changes are often most apparent to close friends and family members.

Warning signs for suicide

  • Hopelessness
  • Intense or uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge
  • Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking or without caring about consequences
  • Feeling trapped or like there’s no way out
  • Verbal hints such as, “I won’t be around much longer.”
  • Increased alcohol or drug use
  • Withdrawing from friends, family and society
  • Anxiety, agitation, inability to sleep or sleeping all the time
  • Dramatic mood or personality changes
  • Expressing no reason for living or no sense of purpose in life
  • Giving away things that are meaningful, putting affairs in order
  • Seeking access to potentially lethal means (guns, knives, pills, high windows, etc.)
  • Becoming suddenly cheerful after a period of depression
  • Talking about death and suicide

These warning signs are provided by The Jed Foundation.

If you think someone you care about is showing warning signs for suicide, ask them, “How are you doing?” and “Are you experiencing thoughts of suicide?”

Asking someone if they’re struggling with thoughts of suicide won’t put them at risk. And most importantly – it creates an opportunity to offer support and share resources.

Try to not let the fear of a “yes” answer prevent you from asking someone about thoughts of suicide. If this happens, be sure to get appropriate professional help. Counseling and Psychological Services or the National Suicide Lifeline can provide support or if it’s an emergency, you can call 911.

It’s okay for you to feel uncertain about what to say or do when someone expresses that they’re having thoughts of suicide. But the best thing you can do is to get help right away, and stay with them until appropriate care resources are present.

If someone answers “no,” but you’re unsure about their response, try to offer support resources like Counseling and Psychological Services. You can also try reframing your question or check in with that person later.

If you want more information about how to help someone who’s struggling with suicide, please sign up for our suicide prevention training, Campus Connect.

Help a friend with a mental health concern

Help a friend with a mental health concern

60 percent of Cougs say they want more information on how to help a friend in distress. While people can struggle for many reasons, it’s possible someone you care about will experience distress due to a mental health concern.

Stigma around mental health can cause people to hide their problem or prevent them from getting help. But talking about mental health can help overcome negative attitudes and encourage people to get help when they need it.

The best thing you can do for someone going through a mental health problem is to assure them of your support. If you have a friend with a mental health concern, try using empathy and active listening the next time you’re talking mental health.

Empathy

Empathy is about perspective taking – trying to understand what someone else is going through from their perspective. Even if you haven’t personally experienced what your friend is going through, you can still express empathy.

When someone shares about a mental health problem, don’t feel like you have to give advice or know the perfect answer. Instead, try to acknowledge their emotions and listen non-judgmentally to what they share.

Active listening

When someone shares about a mental health problem, try to listen carefully, then paraphrase what they say back to them. You can also ask clarifying questions to help you better understand what they’re going through.

One of the best ways to develop active listening skills is to ask yourself, “What would I have wanted someone to say to me during a time when I was struggling or experiencing a crisis?” It’s likely you didn’t want advice or suggestions about what to do. More than anything, you probably wanted support and assurance that you weren’t alone.

Let’s put empathy and active listening into practice. Here are some comparisons of helpful and unhelpful things to say to someone struggling with a mental health concern.

HelpfulUnhelpful
“It sounds like you’re feeling frustrated and hopeless.”Talking too much about yourself: “I know exactly how you feel!”
“What has been helpful to you in the past when you struggled?”“You just need to…”
“This sounds like a challenging time. How can I be the best help to you now?”Relying too much on reassuring: “Everything is going to be okay… you’ll get over it!”
“I don’t know what to say right now, I’m just so glad you told me.”Not saying anything at all because you don’t know what to say.
Offer resources for support and let them decide if and when to access them. Not offering support or resources.

When you’re talking with someone about their mental health, remember that pauses and brief silences are okay. Sometimes people who are going through something need time to reflect and gather their thoughts.

Do you want to learn more about supporting someone who’s experiencing a mental health crisis? Sign up for our Mental Health First Aid class or suicide prevention training, Campus Connect.

7 tips for talking about suicide

7 tips for talking about suicide

When the topic of suicide comes up, you may feel nervous or uncertain about what to say. You might even be afraid you’ll put someone at risk if you talk about suicide. But this isn’t true. In fact, talking about suicide, even if it’s just a short conversation, can encourage people who are at risk to seek help.

Research indicates that certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals. But it isn’t just the media that influences people who are at risk. Conversations and reactions to suicide by peers and community members can also impact people who are struggling.

At WSU, we want to encourage members of our community to get help when they experience thoughts of suicide or other mental health concerns. To make this happen, follow our tips below to ensure you’re talking about suicide in a way that is helpful.

  1. Offer hope by sharing about the many resources and treatment options available to people struggling with thoughts of suicide
  2. Share information about warning signs and encourage others to add the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to their contacts
  3. Talk about mental health concerns as a normal, common experience and emphasize the value of getting help when needed
  4. Refrain from sensationalizing or glamorizing suicide
  5. Avoid speculating and sharing misinformation
  6. Avoid using dramatic or graphic language, including discussion of methods for death by suicide
  7. Educate yourself by seeking out information from suicide prevention experts

Do you want to take an active role in reducing stigma around mental health or learn about how you can support someone experiencing a mental health crisis or suicidal thoughts? Sign up for our Mental Health First Aid workshop or Campus Connect.

These tips are adapted from Reporting on Suicide’s Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide.

We’re adding more mental health training options

We’re expanding training opportunities for mental health and suicide prevention. By adding more facilitators and online trainings, we’ll be able to educate more Cougs!

We now have two Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) facilitators. Our MHFA classes are always full and we often have to put people on a waiting list. With two facilitators on staff, we’ll be able to train more Cougs how to recognize and assist someone experiencing a mental health crisis.

We’re working with Global Campus to make mental health-related webinars, like mindfulness and self-care, available online. And coming soon, our suicide prevention training, Campus Connect, will also be available online.

Providing online trainings allows us to reach more people, and establishes a reliable web-based mental health reference Cougs can refer back to.

Additionally, this fall we’re implementing a Campus Connect refresher course to ensure previous participants are up-to-date on best practices in suicide prevention. All returning resident advisors will participate in the refresher course, and new resident advisors will take Campus Connect training for the first time.

When we meet with returning resident advisors, we’ll discuss how they’ve used information from Campus Connect in the past year. We’ll talk about any struggles they experienced with implementing the material, and how we can improve our program in the future.

By utilizing different formats to deliver trainings, and increasing the number of trainings we offer, we’ll be able to train more Cougs, both online, and at the Pullman campus.

Strengthening crisis response protocol

At our last meeting with the Jed Foundation, they provided us with recommendations for enhancing our suicide prevention and mental health promotion efforts. Based on their feedback report, our top priority is collecting all relevant crisis response protocols in one comprehensive document.

Our ultimate goal is to establish a protocol that clearly communicates action steps for all WSU departments and personnel both during and after helping a student in crisis.

Many universities have multiple policies and protocols for different types of crises, but don’t have a single comprehensive protocol in place. We’re creating a unified protocol as a proactive step to improve cross-campus collaborative support for students who need help.

Right now, members of the Campus Mental Health Collaborative are reviewing WSU’s existing crisis-related policies and protocols to identify potential gaps. We’re also referencing other institutions’ response protocols, which the Jed Foundation and SAMHSA identified as examples of best practice.

Our final comprehensive response protocol is intended to cover situations such as student death, attempted suicide in progress, threats of harm to self or others, arrest or incarceration, disruptive behavior, and other crisis situations.

If you want to learn more about crisis response protocol development, check out the Suicide Prevention Resource Center’s virtual learning lab where they cover how to write and review crisis protocols.