The National Alliance of Mental Health (NAMI) found one in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental illness. On college campuses, 40 percent of students dealing with diagnosable mental health conditions did not seek help. The report found concern of stigma is the No. 1 reason students do not seek help.
At BYU–Hawaii, three different individuals said they are trying to do their part to combat the problem of the lack of education surrounding mental health and the stigma associated with it. Whether it is through a club, class, or job, these individuals explained they want to change the BYUH’s culture on mental health.
Battling mental illness through kindness
Kaleah Liechty, a freshman from Utah majoring in communications, said because of her battles with mental and physical illness, she started the Kindness Club at BYUH in hopes of making kindness a natural way of life and at the center of mental health discussions.
Liechty said her passion for kindness came after she experienced months of sickness and was close to death. In fifth grade, Liechty said she got her gallbladder and appendix removed. After the surgery, a gallstone blocked her main bile duct, and it had to be surgically removed. Then that incision came undone. She said she internally bled and had to be taken to a hospital. Amid the surgeries, she said she suffered from a seizure and superbug flu from the hospital.
Before her surgeries and sicknesses, Liechty said she was sometimes mean to others and was careless. When she was close to death, she decided she wanted to be remembered as kind because kindness is one of the most important things anyone can be. She said it is important because that is what changes the world.
Although the experience from fifth grade helped her align her prioritizes, Liechty admitted it came with unintended consequences.
“I was really happy and healthy before that, but after that experience, I got post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] from the surgical trauma,” shared Liechty. “PTSD gives you a little bit of everything, anxiety, depression, and you get panic attacks, and it is hard to sleep at night. Also you have tons of fear and guilt. PTSD is irrational, so your brain will find your greatest fear you have, and it will make your fear real.”
Luckily, Liechty said with therapy, she was able to feel like herself again. “Through therapy, I was able to get over PTSD. It was incredible because there were days in six grade I never thought I would smile again.”
"When you have a mental illness, get help for it. It doesn’t mean you are crazy. I didn’t want to go to therapy because I thought since none of my friends go to therapy, I must be weird and crazy. Going and getting help is just like fixing your broken arm except people can’t see it.”
Liechty explained through the Kindness Club, she hopes to change how people view mental issues and how those who have mental illness view themselves.
“Even with a mental illness, you are still a person, you are still functioning, and can have light in your life. Everyone has their own battles, and we need to stop looking at people like they are crazy and treating yourself like you are crazy.”
Liechty stated she believes the struggles associated with mental health can be diminished with kindness.
“We all need to have kindness because life is already hard. We don’t need to make it harder by hating on yourself and others. Don’t joke about mental illness because it is real. Even if it is funny, it might be painful to someone.”
Spreading awareness through education
Katya Jackson, a senior from Utah, said through her psychology major she hopes to teach others about mental health disorders and empower people to look at mental health differently.
“I am passionate about mental health awareness because I had struggles with anxiety and depression,” said Jackson. “I want to raise awareness because I have been in those dark places, and I know people have experienced those feelings.”
Jackson said she is researching on the topic of mental health to prepare for a future mental health awareness week. To prepare students for the week, Jackson presented her findings on the subject of mental health to the Cats Club on campus.
At the club’s meeting on Nov. 7, Jackson shared how college students have to deal with a lot of stress, whether it be financial, academic, or the transition to adulthood. She said through personal experience talking to someone about how you feel can help lift the burden of stress.
“I think social supports are super powerful. The feeling of hopeless comes when you are alone. It is hard to reach out to people because you feel crazy. We need to raise awareness, so people feel comfortable talking about how they feel.”
Jackson said if anyone is overwhelmed with anxious feelings or depressive thoughts, she recommends going to the BYUH Counseling and Disabilities Services. She indicated she had a great experience with Counseling Services, but she wishes there were more counselors on campus.
Jackson said although mental illnesses are complex, everyone can be open to discussing mental health. She revealed how people tell others to "snap out of it" and to stop feeling what they feel, but if people wanted to “snap out of it”, they would.
“When talking about mental health awareness, I think it is important to talk about the stigma that comes along with mental illness. The stigma is what stops people from getting the help they need. You can’t force someone to therapy but what you can do is be there for them and help fight stigma.”
After BYUH, Jackson wants to become a music therapist. In music therapy, she said instead of conducting normal counseling, you use music to help others feel better. “I believe music makes people happy. I don’t want to sit down with a person like a normal therapist. I just want to help give people a purpose through music.”
Working towards understanding
Understanding and helping those with mental disorders is part of Leilani Auna’s life-long mission. She is a L.C.S.W. Clinical Counselor/ Disability Coordinator at Counseling and Disabilities Services at BYUH. Auna said mental health is just as important as physical health because it affects our thinking, our relationships, and our everyday life functioning.
Auna stated it is vital students understand stress, anxiety, and depression. “Stress is something we all need. If we didn’t have stress, we wouldn’t be doing anything. We are not supposed to be avoiding stress it would be impossible, but we should learn how to respond to stress."
“Stress is a response to a threat in a situation and anxiety is your reactions to the stress. Anxiety usually focuses on worries or fears about things that could threaten us.”
Auna explained the role anxiety and depression have in life. "Anxiety is a way of life. If we didn’t have anxiety, we would not be worried about anything. We all go through depression and anxiety. We have good days and bad days.”
Even though anxiety, stress, and depression are part of life, there becomes a point when those feelings become abnormal and interrupt our normal everyday routine in life that may indicate a chemical imbalance, said Auna.
“It is very normal to have stress and anxiety in our life, but when it takes over our lives and you become frozen, can’t eat or sleep, or even do simple functions, there is a chemical imbalance going on in the brain.”
Auna said because of chemical imbalances in the brain, our major-life functioning becomes disrupted. People with depression can’t get out of bed or people who have anxiety can only hear the sound of heart racing and pounding in certain situations. These people may not be able to eat or sleep and sometimes not think as clearly as they used to.
These symptoms may translate into a mental disorder if it goes on for a prolonged period of time.
Having a mental disorder does not mean you are crazy or weak, stated Auna, even though there’s a stigma people associate with mental health. “I want students to know mental health is as vitally important as your physical health. Especially at BYUH with our different cultures.
“Mental health is very important because it affects how we think, interact with each other, and how we function in our academic ability.”
When someone believes their negative thinking and feeling is overtaking their life, Auna said, they can turn to Counseling and Disabilities Services. Counseling and Disabilities Services are two separate services.
According to Auna, for Counseling Services, a student can come in to meet with a licensed clinician to help with mental health issues like anxiety, depression, trauma and relationship problems or other personal issues.
“All you will be doing is talking to a counselor in a private setting, and they will not tell anyone anything without your permission. If anyone asks about you, we cannot acknowledge or deny that you were there. There are individual counseling and group counseling available. Our services are free to all full-time students and their dependents.”
Where you can get help
To make an appointment with Counseling or Disability Services, you may come to Mckay 181 or call 808 675-3518 to make an appointment.
Disabilities Services has a different role than Counseling Services, said Leilani Auna. It is based on the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Disability Services works with students with all types of disabilities; Physical Disabilities, Psychological/Psychiatric Disabilities, Learning Disabilities, Attention Deficit Problems or any medical condition that hinders a student from being on the same level playing field as their peers in the academic/classroom setting, housing area, and food services. Disability Services will work with these different areas to reasonably accommodate students as they pursue their educational goals here at BYUH.
For mental health emergencies outside of normal business hours, please contact BYU-Hawaii Public Safety at 808 675-3911, go to the nearest emergency room, or call 911.
What does it mean?
Stress is how the brain and body respond to any demand. It is different from anxiety because anxiety is a reaction to stress.
Who does it affect?
Everyone feels stressed from time to time. Some people may cope with stress more effectively or recover from stressful events more quickly than others.
How to manage it
Get regular exercise, try a relaxing activity, set goals and priorities, ask family and friends for help.
What does it mean?
In an anxiety-related disorder, your fear or worry does not go away and can get worse over time. It interferes with daily activities like school, work and/or relationships.
Who does it affect?
More than 40 million American adults are affected by different anxiety-related disorders. Some including Social Anxiety, Posttraumatic Stress, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders.
How to manage it
Accept that you cannot control everything. Do your best. Maintain a positive attitude. Learn what triggers your anxiety. Eat right, sleep enough and exercise. Take deep breaths. Slowly count to 10. Take time out. Talk to someone and get help.
What does it mean?
Most people feel low and sad at times, but individuals with depression have low moods more severe and they tend to persist.
Who does it affect?
There are different types of depressive disorders. The most common is Major Depressive Disorder. In 2015, around 16.1 million adults aged 18 years or older in the United States had experienced this form of depression.
How to manage it
Medication and therapy can relieve depressive symptoms especially when the two are combined.