With everyone wearing red, the Psychology Department hosted a Mental Health Awareness Walk to reinforce the idea that mental health is a real issue in the world. Students and professionals alike shared the necessity to stop stigmatizing mental health and to ensure there are resources to manage mental health disorders.
Eric Orr, an assistant professor in the Psychology Department, was the director in planning this walk. He said, with the help of his students, they planned to raise awareness of how common mental health problems are in our lives.
“Every family has mental health issues … Every person is going to struggle with mental health issues at one point in their life or the other. We should understand that it’s in our community. It’s not something to stay away from. We need to step towards people dealing with mental health issues.”
Rachel Kekaula, who is the director of Counseling Services, shared, “Any type of awareness and education is addressing the negative stigma around mental health. The more we talk about it and share stories that other people can relate to, we begin to understand it is a physiological disease. It is not a weakness or a sign of failure.”
Orr explained that to raise awareness for mental health problems people need to understand them, know how to treat them and help people get help and normalize them.
He said they chose to hold a walk to get people involved in raising awareness and breaking stigmas. “By having people engage in a walk on a certain topic, they tend to have more personal beliefs in the direction of what the walk was about. We wanted people to change their attitudes a little bit, even if it’s just a little bit, about mental health, and to increase their awareness.”
Orr talked extensively on the stigmas still around mental health on campus. He said he used to work at Counseling Services on campus and would often have students admit their initial fears of being seen even entering the Counseling Office. He said he hopes students can break down these stigmas both through spreading awareness on campus and events like the walk.
Regarding this event, Orr shared a scripture from the Bible, specifically 1 Corinthians 13:12. He said this scripture makes him think of how to help people with love.
“To me, [the scriptures] sends the message that we don’t really have an ability to see into someone’s soul. We don’t have the capacity to see what is going on inside a person. We see through the glass darkly… In order for me to move forward in helping somebody, I have to move forward with faith, hope and charity.”
On Saturday, Oct. 26, the Psychology Department, with the support of Counseling Services, held a Mental Health Awareness Walk. According to Orr, nearly 200 students were in attendance. Noellette Cookson, a sophomore from New Zealand majoring in psychology, said she was there because she cares about mental health.
Red was the color of the day, and students were invited to wear red to the event. If they did not have any red shirts, they were given red jerseys to wear.
According to Orr, the color choice was to help draw attention to the event. He said he wanted people to notice crowds of people walking through campus and ask, “Why are you wearing red?” and then have an opportunity to learn about mental health.
Orr kicked off the event by asking everyone in attendance, faculty, students and volunteers alike, to raise their hands if they or anyone in their lives had dealt with mental illness. Nearly every hand in attendance went up.
One goal Orr said he had was to raise awareness for mental health issues, “Mental health is something that everyone deals with. We all deal with physical health, and we also deal with mental health.”
Teagen Henderson, a freshman from Idaho with an undeclared major, said although he didn’t know much about mental health issues, he wanted to learn more. “I want to learn more [about mental health] so that I can help people because right now, I don’t know too much.”
Cookson was a trail walker during the event, meaning she helped guide groups as they walked around campus. Cookson said this mental health walk was important because everyone deals with some mental health issues in their life.
Spreading truth was the reason Mahonri Eteru, a sophomore from Australia majoring in psychology, said the event was important. He said, “[Mental health issues] need to be known, people need to learn the truth, and then we can reduce stigma.” The walk consisted of small groups of 10 to 15 students each walking around campus, through TVA and back to the Flag Circle.
There is Help for Everybody
Since mental health issues are prevalent in society, Orr and Kekaula heavily endorsed utilizing Counseling Services offered on campus at no cost to students.
In regards to a student trying to help a friend struggling with mental health issues, Orr shared that people need to come from a place of love.
“The greatest thing to say to someone struggling with a mental health issue is that you hear what they are saying and that you care about them. You could say, ‘You seem like you are struggling with depression’ or ‘You seem like you are struggling with an issue and need to find help.’ See if they are willing to find help.”
Orr specifically mentioned his admiration for the location of Counseling Services, nestled in perhaps the busiest intersection on campus.
“Everybody can see the office on campus. For me, it makes it much more approachable when you pass by it every day. It also makes it a little bit easier to access since it is right there in the middle of campus.”
Kekaula said they offer counseling for individuals, groups, couples, and people with disabilities. She said their ultimate goal is to help students be successful in their academics as well as their lives.
Kekaula said, “We hope to support the university’s mission that students come to learn and that they are successful in their academic studies.”
Kekaula shared that some of the primary methods they try to help students learn through counseling are self-coping mechanisms, mindfulness and balance. Kekaula specifically mentioned that balance is essential for students.
“I always think balance is important. In this developmental stage for students, there are so many transitions to independence, adulthood, school, relationships, and figuring out the trajectory of your life. Balance and spiritual strength are important for students,” Kekaula said.
She said in order to find balance in life, one has to focus on time management, being task-oriented, and keeping mental checklists of priorities in life. “Of course, it also takes self-reflection. What are the things that are important to you? Because you can’t do everything. You need to prioritize what is most important and valuable for you.”
Kekaula shared some new improvements coming to the Counseling Services website, as well. The plans are for more information in the self-help section, with activities like mental health quizzes that can recommend basic coping tips or refer the individual to a professional.
Both Orr and Kekaula expressed excitement for the future of both mental health awareness and the students on campus. Orr shared that even though this is only the second time holding this event at BYUH, he plans to make this an annual tradition with the help of his students.
“I want everyone on campus to understand that mental health issues are everybody’s issues. Everybody has the potential to suffer from mental health issues. Everybody needs to be aware of their own mental health, and everybody needs to be responsible for their own mental health.”
Orr shared that he hopes to inspire students to go forth and hold events like this back at home. He said that he hopes this will happen, especially in countries where mental health is barely talked about and still heavily stigmatized.
“It is really my hope that when some of these students graduate, having participated in the leadership of this or even just participated in the walk itself, will go home to their country and suggest they do this activity in their home country to see if they can decrease stigma and increase mental health awareness.”
Similarly, Kekaula expressed that she wants students to utilize the counseling services offered on campus fully.
Kekaula shared, “It’s just a matter of you having to take that first step. Why not try something new?”