October 7 was South Carolina Mental Health Awareness Day. Hospitals, cities, businesses, institutions, organizations and individuals throughout the state committed themselves to raising awareness for mental health issues while simultaneously breaking down stereotypes. The Cougar Counseling team was among these groups devoted to making changes in the realm of mental health.
Rachel McNamara is the Health Educator for the Cougar Counseling team. With the help of Mental Health Outreach Coordinator Alexandra Greenawalt, McNamara organized a campus-wide awareness day. The team stood in Cougar Mall handing out green ribbons for mental health, free baked goods, promotional products and informational brochures while advertising Cougar Counseling services. The team placed over 200 green balloons throughout campus to promote awareness of Mental Health Day. “We want to make an impact and break the stigma,” Greenawalt said.
McNamara believes the Mental Health Event was a huge success in bringing the right kind of knowledge of Mental Health Issues to College of Charleston students. This knowledge addresses the ways people treat mental health issues. The team hoped to show students that having a mental health problem is nothing to be ashamed of. “In an ideal world,” McNamara said, “people would treat counseling and medication as comfortably as going for help for a cold or allergy.” The counseling team recognizes that relaying this message to our campus is extremely important. According to McNamara, seven to nine percent of undergraduates commit suicide each year. By putting on this event, the team hoped to lower the potential risks on our campus.
Aside from the serious issue of suicide, the counseling team hopes to help students with even the smallest difficulties. “It is important for people to realize that it is fairly common to experience mental distress and that there are methods that work,” McNamara said.
Chandler Massengale, Laura Miller and Briana Lunn-Maher are three members of the Cougar Counseling team who work everyday to alleviate the struggles and stresses of students on campus. “Come in and talk,” they said. “We can help people start the conversation about what is going on. We are trained to help people feel comfortable because we are nonjudgmental, confidential, interested, caring and know the resources. Sometimes it is easier to open up to people who have no idea about you. You don’t have to be careful about expressing your true feelings and thoughts without worrying about hurting the team member’s feelings or having them judge you.”
Though the main goal of Mental Health Awareness Day was to encourage students in need of help to reach out the the Cougar Counselors, McNamara stressed the importance of students helping each other. “Pay attention to your friends,” McNamara said, “don’t brush it off if people are really struggling, know the warning signs for mental distress and be accepting and nonjudgmental when people are sharing their difficulties with you.” Signs of mental health distress include personality change, agitation, withdrawal, not taking care of oneself and hopelessness. McNamara hopes that students will be on the look out for these characteristics in their friends as well as themselves.
In seeking help, many people in distress will be reserved due to fear of stereotyping. “Stereotypes are detrimental and are examples of people jumping to conclusions. Because of stereotypes people are more likely to imagine worst case scenarios without seeing the reality,” McNamara said. When a student feels stereotyped, he or she will never get help and will never be fully healed. “If people start struggling they may delay getting help because they are afraid of the negative stereotype,” said McNamara. “We think it is important for people to realize that many people who experience mental health problems live wonderfully fulfilling and successful lives. People can get through their struggles.”
Anyone experiencing mental health stresses or struggles can reach out to both Counseling and Substance Abuse Services (CASAS) and the Cougar Counseling Team (CCT). CASAS is a group of professional counselors. They can be reached at 953-5640 and their office is at Suite 300 in the Robert Scott Small building. The Cougar Counseling team’s office is in room 319 in Robert Scott Small. Students can also text “4Support” to 839863 from 4 p.m. until 9 p.m for immediate attention.
The counseling team is looking for people to help with their Fight the Fear of Mental Health Stigma event. “We are hoping to collect a group of students and professionals who are willing to share their experiences with mental health and how they have continued to live, have a good life and have success,” she said. People and groups interested in helping can contact Taylor Chapman, firstname.lastname@example.org or Rachael McNamara, email@example.com.
Mental Health Awareness Day was surely an inspiring and uplifting way to spread an understanding of what people should do when they or their friends are feeling distressed. As the Cougar Counseling slogan goes, when in need of help always remember to “seek counseling, get support, help a friend.”