OSU works to destigmatize mental health

OSU suicide prevention coordinator Jim Gouveia working at his standing desk. Gouveia believes that finding balance and being true to oneself are beneficial to one’s mental health.

Arianna Schmidt, News Contributor

Mental health organizations reach out, connect with community.

Oregon is ranked last in the country for treatment of people with mental health problems, according to oregonlive.com (The Oregonian). However, Oregon is also ranked in the top half of the country for access to mental health care. Where is the gap that separates people with mental illness from their ability to receive care? Oregon State University is looking to turn around the stigma associated with mental illness with a wide variety of on-campus resources that are available to all students.

The tie between mental health and the department of Recreational Sports begins with physical activity, according to Danielle Caldwell, coordinator for wellness education with Recreational Sports. An active lifestyle and regular physical activity can contribute to mental well-being in a number of ways. There are, to name a few, the physiological connections in the body, as well as the social connections established through physical activity, in addition to the stress relief that is experienced when participating in something active that takes one’s mind off of worries or challenges, Caldwell added. 

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According to Caldwell, Recreational Sports brought her on about five years ago in order to help students recognize how physical activity contributes to their overall well-being and academic success. She works with the department and campus partners to assist students in building and maintaining a habit of regular physical activity. 

“The last few years have been wellness coaching, so seeing students one-on-one and helping them with whatever their wellness goals are,” Caldwell said. “A lot of times that is something physical, but it could also be an emotional, social or academic goal.”

Caldwell is working with Student Health Services on a program called Physical Activity Referral, modeled after the American College of Sports Medicine, Exercise is Medicine program. In appointments with physicians at SHS, students will now be asked if they are getting the minimum of 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise each week. If students say they are not meeting the minimum American College of Sports Medicine guidelines for physical activity, they will be offered a referral, but can choose to turn it down, according to Caldwell.

“They can offer them a referral to a fitness professional at Rec Sports, who will meet with the student and talk about their needs, the challenges they face and hopefully point them in the right direction,” Caldwell said. “We have some other resources we can offer the students when necessary. We’re hoping that we’re going to reach students that may not walk through our doors at Dixon you know if they hadn’t had that little nudge from their healthcare provider.”

Currently, Caldwell is the only wellness coach on campus. According to Caldwell, health coaching has been on campus for over ten years and has involved one or two coaches meeting with students to talk one-on-one. Since Caldwell was hired, the staff has changed the name to “wellness coaching” in order to incorporate a model of holistic health, which encompasses more than just individuals’ bodies. Student Health Services will also be rolling out a peer wellness coaching model this winter term, according to Caldwell. 

“Students will come in with any range of things where they want to see some kind of improvement,” Caldwell said. “They’re feeling like their social well-being is lagging a little bit or it’s not in a good place. As a coach, it’s not really my job to tell them what to do; I’m not an expert in all areas of well-being and I’m not an expert in their lives. We work together to kind of brainstorm a plan for them to move forward.” 

It is not a wellness coach’s job to address mental illness, according to Caldwell. A licensed mental health professional at Counseling and Psychological Services should handle any concerns regarding mental illness. However, Caldwell says she has had students come to her first with concerns surrounding mental illness, and she suggests that they make an appointment to see a counselor.

“I’m just glad that they’re reaching out and connecting with someone,” Caldwell said. “Because I don’t know whether they have a mental illness or not. Also, I’m not going to diagnose them. I get referrals from CAPS, students that are being seen by the counselors that are trying to maybe implement some healthier habits; maybe they’re trying to eat better if that’s going to help their mental health, maybe they’re trying to be more social so they can feel more connected.”

According to Jim Gouveia, a licensed clinical social worker and staff counselor at CAPS and the suicide prevention coordinator for OSU, the counselors available at CAPS try to promote mental health and be holistic in their perspective. Counselors suggest it is important to be sound not only in the body, but in the mind as well. Coping mechanisms are individually recommended based on individual needs and abilities; some examples are mindfulness, exercise and diet as suggested to students, Gouveia added.

“We want to help people who are struggling with normal day-to-day stress as well as those that have more serious mental health concerns so they are able to function in the world in a way that they can meet their full potential,” Gouveia said. “So we do individual and group counseling, and ultimately if we have people who are at risk of hurting themselves then we have to keep them safe. So we work with the hospital and the doctors over at the Student Health Services with medication management, with hospitalizations if necessary and those kind of interventions.”

Students come to CAPS because they are stressed out over school, relationships, depression, anxiety and family while simultaneously looking to the future and the next step in their lives, according to Gouveia. Students come to college with experiences from the last 18 years of their lives and the counselors at CAPS understand they are trying to become people who are more than just their problems, Gouveia added.

“Academia is stressful,” Gouveia said. “There’s a lot of pressure to perform, to compete, to graduate, to know what you’re going to do, what you want to do, and all of that can cause folks to struggle. So I think it’s important that we can support folks to be successful as they can, no matter what’s going on in their life.”

Gouveia says the number one thing students can do to battle daily stress is to balance day-to-day activities that might seem overwhelming when first arriving at college. Eating right, getting enough sleep and moderating drinking and other drug use are good ways to start putting life back into perspective after feeling the freedom that college gives to young people, according to Gouveia.

“It’s really finding balance, and I think it’s really trying to find your authentic self—because the more you can show up as your authentic self, the less you have to deal with any repercussions of trying to be something you’re not,” Gouveia said. “That’s hard when you first come here because you want to fit in, everyone wants to belong. Simply, all humans want is meaning and purpose, to have a sense of belonging and to give and receive love. If we can help people do that, not that you should know your exact meaning and purpose is once you get here, but if you’re developing that over the four years that you’re here, that’s great.”

According to Gouveia, de-stigmatization of mental illness around campus and the promotion of mental health is due in part to the Active Minds chapter on campus. Active Minds, a national student-run organization that has a chapter here at OSU, relays information to the public about what mental health and mental illness is, how students with illness can ask for help and why it is important to ask for help.

“So we have a plethora of activities we do,” Gouveia said. “Presentations in classrooms, organizations that invite us to come with that very goal of de-stigmatizing mental illness, promoting mental health and finding balance in an unbalanced world and then increasing access of getting to mental health services.”

According to Carol Moreno, president of OSU’s Active Minds, the club’s primary aim is to bring awareness about mental health to OSU by connecting with students, educating them and offering opportunities for advocacy and leadership training.

“On a national level, many Active Minds chapters have managed to change campus policies to be more cognizant of students with mental health struggles, as well as initiate campus research projects to learn more about what mental health issues students are currently facing,” Moreno said in an email. “Our Active Minds chapter has worked with other organizations in the past to bring events like the Post-Secret initiative, Send Silence packing, which both focused on suicide awareness and prevention, and the national eating disorder awareness week.” While Active Minds doesn’t plan NEDA, it does plan World Mental Health Day, Moreno added. 

According to Moreno, the rate of 18 to 24-year-olds, commonly known as college-age students, are the largest group in mental health statistics to refuse receiving help. This age group reports needing guidance at a much larger rate than any other age group because of added stress and anxiety. According to Moreno, between 80 and 90 percent of people who die by suicide never seek help, and for college students, suicide is the second leading cause of death.  

“Mental health is something that impacts everyone at some point in their life,” Moreno said in an email. “But it is not something that is paid as much attention to as physical health or illnesses. Mental illnesses are often invisible and they impact everyone differently.”

Active Minds hosts events throughout the term to help students become suicide prevention “gatekeepers”, practice self-care and be more knowledgeable about mental health illnesses overall, according to Moreno. Winter term will include the club hosting lectures from psychology department professors to educate students on a variety of different mental health topics such as living with depression, stress reduction management and eating disorders.

“We are also working on bringing two suicide prevention initiatives to our campus by the end of this year,” Moreno said in an email. “Our hope is to work with ASOSU to get the CAPS suicide hotline number on the back of all student ID cards. This project was taken on by a previous Active Minds president a couple of years ago and was approved by our administration, but never seemed to be executed. With the help of ASOSU, and the support of CAPS, we are hoping to ensure that this will happen within the next year.”

According to Moreno, two phrases that are often heard in the club are being mentally fit and knowing it’s okay to not be okay.

“We believe that it is just as important to work on taking care of your mental health as it is to go to the gym to stay in shape,” Moreno said in an email. “Helping students recognize that there is nothing wrong with seeking help for a mental illness is the only way to combat the stigmatization surrounding help-seeking and encourage students to take care of themselves in order to be successful in their life.”