Brigham Young Students Discuss Mental HealthMarch 28, 2017 |
by Braley Dodson, Associated Press
PROVO, Utah — It’s not unusual for students at Brigham Young University to blame themselves for their mental health struggles.
“Sometimes, the conception is, ‘I wouldn’t be struggling with my mental health if I were praying harder, or if I were doing everything perfectly the way I was supposed to be doing,’” Brooke Adams, a senior who is part of a group that surveyed students about mental health and is trying to change the attitude surrounding it, told the Daily Herald.
“Like, this could be my fault for not being the best (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) member that I can be. There is this idea, and combine that with the optimistic side of (Mormon) culture where people mentioned sometimes if you are feeling depressed or have depression, they could say, ‘Well, you just need to smile more, or serve, or do these things and it will fix it.’”
Adams said those misconceptions she heard from students can be isolating because it places pressure on the individual who is struggling.
It’s an idea she and four other BYU seniors are trying to change through a campaign to get students talking about mental health.
The team of five seniors is running the campaign for the Bateman Case Study Competition, an annual competition put on by the Public Relations Student Society of America.
The team is working to teach the BYU community about the five signs of emotional suffering: personality change, agitation, withdrawal, poor self-care and hopelessness.
The campaign, unveiled Feb. 15, will run for a month. Its client, the Campaign to Change Direction, seeks to change how people think about mental health.
“Changing the culture of mental health is such an audacious goal,” said Alec Sears, one of the students working on the project. “Really, you have to start somewhere, and that place is starting a conversation.”
They want students to think of their mental health as just as important as physical health.
“Mental health is just another part of your body,” said Katie Rhoton, a student working on the campaign.
The team surveyed students and found that 99 percent of them have either struggled or know someone who has struggled with mental health issues. Two-thirds of students surveyed said they had personally dealt with mental health struggles.
The team said those results are consistent with national statistics they’ve found.
Their research also found that BYU students were comfortable talking about mental health with a family member or a close friend.
“But they don’t feel as comfortable and they don’t see the BYU campus as being that open or that comfortable talking about the subject,” Adams said.
To help facilitate those conversations, the team has created a Family Home Evening lesson plan that encourages students to watch the “Like a Broken Vessel” talk by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns and operates BYU.
Students are encouraged to discuss the talk and play a game where they identify which sign of emotional suffering is being shown with figures in the scriptures, such as a personality change in Lehi, or hopelessness in Joseph Smith.
The students say creating that resource was a natural way to get the conversation going.
“You have so many people here who think of their mental health in a religious context,” said Jake Gibb, one of the students running the campaign.
Adams said it’s often hard for people who haven’t experienced mental health struggles to know what to ask people who are experiencing them.
“We are trying to make people comfortable, make it so that awkward, uncomfortable silence is a little less awkward,” she said.
They’ve been tabling in the student center to get students to sign a pledge to know the five signs. They also have videos where people share their own experiences with mental health and offer prizes for groups who do the Family Home Evening lesson.
Running the awareness campaign has helped the members of the student team take a deeper look at their own mental health and see if people they know are displaying the signs.
“It has definitely been something that has started conversations in our personal circles,” said Gibb, who dealt with minor mental health issues when he returned from his Mormon mission.
Awareness of mental health and a push for additional resources is happening at institutions throughout the state.
In August, the Utah Student Association drafted a letter citing research on mental health. The letter states that mental illness corresponds with higher dropout rates and lower GPAs. It also states that on average, a college student in Utah will have to wait four to eight weeks to get an appointment at a counseling center.
The letter encourages the schools in the Utah System of Higher Education to increase access to therapists, create a support network and emphasize preventative care.
“Every institution needs additional resources for mental health,” said Birch Eve, the student body president of Utah Valley University in Orem and president of the Utah Student Association.
Students were at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City earlier this month to lobby the Legislature on the issue.
Eve has been pushing for more counselors at UVU and said he’s had students have breakdowns in his office. He said the counselors see peaks during more stressful times during semesters, like at midterms.
“It is a growing problem, and if we start working on it now, we can come up with an action plan to help resolve it instead of waiting a few years,” Eve said.
The letter was signed by 12 student leaders, including one from BYU. In November, the state’s board of regents created a working group on student mental health.
There will be a statewide campaign at universities this month called Note to Self, where people can write anonymous letters of encouragement. The notes will be mixed up and divided among the institutions.
“We are doing this to unify the students of Utah,” Eve said.