The University Program Council hosted a Mental Health Town Hall Tuesday, Sept. 22 via Zoom. The program brought in four guest presenters, Elena Butler, Reese Butler and Sama Bellomo from imalive.org – an online crisis prevention network – and Bee Smith from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to speak on the misconceptions surrounding mental health issues.
The program focused largely on educating participants on how to handle discussing mental health, especially suicidal thoughts, in an empathetic and helpful manner, as well as addressing and fighting the stigma surrounding these issues. This presentation has been presented as a live show on college campuses since 2010, but has been adapted to a remote format in order to comply with social distancing protocols.
The program started with participants answering a poll ranking their stress on a level of one to ten – with one being the least stressed and ten being the most stressed. Majority of student participants ranked their stress levels at six.
A large portion of the presentation then proceeded to focus on addressing myths about mental health. A game called “Fact or Fiction,” in which participants had to determine if a presented statement was true or false, was hosted.
For example, there is a commonly held misconception that suicides peak during the winter holidays – due to factors such as Seasonal Affective Disorder and increased stress. This, however, is untrue; they actually peak during the spring.
Combatting misconceptions about mental health issues helps people understand these issues more accurately and, therefore, reduces the stigma surrounding them, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
This focus on combatting and reducing the stigma surrounding mental health issues continued on throughout the presentation. The hosts went on to highlight some celebrities who have been outspoken out about their own mental health issues and can serve as role models to those struggling with the same conditions. Celebrities such as Ariana Grande and Oprah Winfrey, who have both been outspoken about their own struggles with mental health issues—PTSD and anxiety issues, respectively.
The presentation went on to address what one should and shouldn’t say in response to someone who has confessed to them they are experiencing suicidal feelings. The hosts stressed that the main thing someone in this situation shouldn’t do is invalidate that person’s feelings.
Someone who is contemplating suicide is already feeling extremely isolated emotionally and saying things that will invalidate their feelings will only make them feel even more alienated from those around them. Additionally, saying things along the lines of “I know how you feel,” often works to turn attention away from them and onto you; once again belittling that person’s emotions.
The presentation emphasized that the best thing you could do for a person who speaks to you about their suicidal feelings is listen to them. What they need more than anything is someone who will provide them support and empathy without judgement.
The presentation then provided a few of the resources available to those who may be struggling with mental health issues. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, especially suicidal thoughts or feelings, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) or the Birmingham Crisis Center 205-323-7777.
The organization that presented this program, imalive.org, also offers online chat-based crisis prevention services. Additionally, University Counseling Services offers free counseling for students, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.