FORUM OCTOBER 18, 2016 | VOLUME 2, ISSUE 1
Issue on Mental Health
YOUR VOICE. YOUR CONCERNS. YOUR CONTRIBUTION.
Inside Table of Contents 2 3 5 7 8 10 12 14 16
Upcoming Events Cover Story: Mental Health and Why it Matters Article: Why OUr Mental Health is Important on Campus Poem: Undulation Art: Men-ancholia Article: A Lost Black Grad Student's Starfish Story Article: 3 Words of Advice for Anyone Dealing with Depression Article: On Labels: Living with Bipolar Disorder and Medications Poem: Ode to Tourette Syndrome
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Article: What Does Self-Care Look Like? Resource: Resourse List for Mental Health - Hotlines, OU Options, and More Info Article: Balancing Dating and Mental Health Poem: Asphyxiation Article: Being Flexible in a Demanding World: A Professional Perspective Article: Lost at Sea: Surviving Suicide and What to Do Next Article: How Do We Make a Safe Place For Students? - A Chat with Dr. Frey About the Contributors
Our Team Editor-in-Chief
Director of Media
Director of Marketing
Dr. Brian Johnson Dr. Joy Pendley Dr. Meg Sibbett Professor Mel Odom Professor Mary Anna Evans Dr. Linda Kelly
Student Section Editor Kelsey Morris Alumni Section Editor
Professors Section Editor
Arts Section Editor
Mission Statement: To serve as OUâ€™s central sounding board, bringing together different voices and disciplines to inform, inspire, and encourage interaction on campus.
Disclaimer: FORUM is an independent student organization, and the views and opinions expressed in it are the personal views of the contributors and FORUM Team and do not represent views of the University of Oklahoma. Quotes and contributions have been edited for grammar, typos, and length.
Upcoming Events Next to Normal: An Original Musical When: October 20-22 at 8pm, October 23 at 2pm Where: The Sooner Theatre of Norman Tickets: $20 In partnership with the Cleveland County Mental Health Task Force, the Sooner Theatre will use the production to raise awareness of mental illness and community resources available to those living with mental illness, their families and caregivers. Members of the task force and resource materials will be available at each show. On October 23 at 4:30pm following the Sunday matinee, there will be a free Public Q&A to help answer any questions the community may have in regard to issues involving mental illness.
Sensitivities and Needs of the LGBTQ Community
Our Mental Health Meeting
When: October 22, 1pm-4:30pm
When: October 18, 7pm-8pm
Where: Memorial Presbyterian Church
Where: Dale Hall 112
An afternoon symposium of learning and discussion. Featuring a panel of guest speakers. Register at normanunited.org.
We will have some snacks and icebreaker games. We will focus on committee work so we can get started on our projects. Contact email@example.com with any questions or concerns! 2
Cover Story: Mental Health and Why it Matters by Amanda Awad
I have been living with recurrent major depression and anxiety for over 9 years. At age 12, as I was just beginning my first year in middle school, I experienced my first depressive episode. For most days of the next two worst years of my life, I was irritable, constantly fatigued, unbearably sad, frustrated and angry with myself, hopeless, distressed, and alone. Every single day was a battle with my illnesses. I became self-destructive and suicidal. I was incredibly sick, and I desperately needed professional help. But, because of a lack of visible resources and the general state of education on mental health, I never received that help. I managed to have made it through this and many more episodes of depression – I am now healthier than ever since I finally started counseling and medication last year – but there are so many people who have not been able to. Too many people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
in 2014 found that suicide is the tenth leading cause of death overall in the U.S., and the second leading cause of death of people between ages 10 and 34 in the U.S., killing twice as many people as from homicides. In 2014, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimated that 43.6 million U.S. adults – an entire 18.1% of the U.S. population – had some mental illness in the past year. It is important to remember that there are many other mental illnesses and struggles aside from depression and anxiety that are also painful, debilitating, and significant. The topic of mental health means so much to me. It affects every part of our lives; it affects our physical health, emotional health, relationships, hopes, dreams, drives. It affects our ability to live our best possible lives. It is so tremendously important that everyone is able to get the help and care that they need, but that is not the current situation. Mental health as a 3
whole is still largely misunderstood, undervalued, and disregarded in most parts of the world. The first and biggest way we can improve mental health education, awareness, and availability of treatment is by speaking about it. In this issue of FORUM, students and professors have shared their personal experiences with and advice on mental health. We hope that these pieces motivate and inspire you to share your experiences the way they have us. If you are comfortable, please be open and active in discussions. You could help someone realize, “Hey, I’m not the only one,” or help them finally understand what it is that they’re experiencing. These things can mean all the world to someone who is struggling. We can each foster an environment that is open and safe for mental health discussions. We can de-stigmatize and normalize mental illness and psychological treatment. We can help each other live our best lives. We don’t have to struggle alone in silence.
Why OUr Mental Health is Important on Campus by Ben Kannenberg
In the spring of my freshman year, I watched one of my best friends struggle with depression. Usually outgoing, she became confined to her bed more and more. Her infectious laugh ceased to ring throughout our dorm floor. Her papers, usually brilliant works of art, became jumbled and rushed or not done at all. The things that used to make her happy lost their effect, and she seemed to shrink more into herself with every passing day. I watched as my friend called Goddard multiple times and was told that there were no available appointments, sorry. I watched as she was told that, by the way, her doctorâ€™s note from out-of-state was no good and that she would have to be retested for everything, sorry. I watched as professors just could not make exceptions for late work or missed exams, sorry. I watched as she lost the scholarship that allowed her to come to OU because there was no proof that her mental illness was what caused her GPA to drop, sorry. And I, sorry but helpless, watched her leave the school she loved because she had no other option.
I joined OUr Mental Health in the fall of my sophomore year because sorry is not good enough for students on our campus struggling with mental illness. I understand that Goddard is doing incredible work, and that professors have to uphold high academic standards, and that financial aid officers have their hands tied in regard to scholarship guidelines. Assigning blame isn’t the answer, especially since the fault isn’t with the administration or Goddard or professors or financial aid or any other single entity on campus. However, I also understand that for any of us on this campus to sit back and pretend that the issue does not exist is to fail students like my friend every single day. OUr Mental Health was born out of the idea that we, as fellow students, can help fill the gaps. We, as fellow students, can break the stigma surrounding mental health, the stigma that tells us that a stomach bug is more serious than a mental illness. We, as fellow students, can connect students to resources and professionals that will provide the help they need to excel. We, as fellow students, can make sure that no one on our campus ever feels helpless or forgotten or worthless or unloved or alone. To accomplish these goals, we have big ideas on the table. We want to work with administration to add a mental health curriculum to Camp Crimson (and provide printed resources to students who can’t go to camp). We want to observe a mental health awareness week on campus designed to tear down the stigma – we’ll hear from speakers and hold events that will let everyone get involved. We want to host open mic nights and poetry slams to give everyone a voice on the topic. We can’t do this alone, though. Your experiences, or the experiences of your friend or roommate or mom or baby brother or anyone else you know who struggles with a mental illness, provide you with a unique perspective to add to ours. We’re trying to make this campus work for people like my friend, and we would love to have you join us.
Undulation by Ashley Jeffalone
I could say many things about the haziness of sleep deprivation, how muted I feel when it’s balmy outside, the anxiety that oscillates with every lost moment where I’ve forgotten to care for myself. (This is frequent.) I could write volumes on the yearning feeling I get just after I shout, that scrawny mite of pride when I make it somewhere on time, the wonder of watching the sun both set and rise sequentially. (This is not often enough.) I could say many things about the iridescence of someone else’s eyes, the bound of pleasure that accompanies constructing a mound of words, the glimmer of relief when I polish a plate. (I’m trying, I’m trying, I’m truly trying.) I want to feel butterflies in my footsteps and gold in every crevice of my brain but I’m not there yet.
Men-ancholia Scout Anvar As an artist, I have made it my personal mission to exemplify the viewpoints that are important to me. I have captured feminism from several different cultural access points and perspectives through a twenty-four-piece series, of which several are pictured. I strive to explore the differences between gender affectations through lenses I am unable to access. This series has been an experimentation of expressing gender differences, the goals of my own social activism, and a global perspective on what work must be done for oppressed, trans*, and non-binary women. Being a queer or being a woman in this society can be seen as a disability through the social landscape, and my art has become a way to articulate the structural and emotional toll that women and non-binary people face every day. Whether it be legislation or social interaction, women experience oppression systematically, and my art has been an attempt for bending the unspoken laws of gender actualization and queering femininity and masculinity.
A Lost Black Grad Studentâ€™s Starfish Story by Charles Terry My favorite collection of essays is The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley. I have found comfort in the story "The Star Thrower" in the collection because it tells of a starfish that washed ashore and needed someone to throw it back in the ocean before the tide came in. Just like that starfish, I have experienced my share of challenges upon my arrival at the University of Oklahoma. I spent the first four weeks of school shuffling from office to office in an attempt to advocate for myself in regards to financial aid concerns and getting my graduate funding appropriately applied to my account. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to attend OU, but these concerns have genuinely impacted my ability to balance my personal and financial responsibilities with heavy academic pursuits. As a first generation student of color, unfortunately I know this experience is not unique to me. Many students of color experience challenges upon their arrival to a college campus that creates roadblocks to academic success. My hope is that my experience and the lessons I have learned from the University Counseling Center (UCC) can inspire another student on this journey. I envision that throughout my time at OU I can help other students facing challenges get back on track towards academic success. Although I have only been on the OU campus for a short time, I have already made significant efforts to connect to the community, share my story, and impact others. I relished the opportunity for an immediate initial appointment with the UCC. Then the UCC intake counselor connected me with a counselor who had experience working with first generation students of color. This UCC counselor encouraged me to join the OU Write Club. Consequently, I became a featured performer for the OU Writing Center, and I began coaching OU students of color on how to write and organize poetry events. In my time at OU, I hope to lead social justice open mics across campus and inspire students of color to share their stories, build community, and advocate for change.
Despite my struggles to adapt to the waters at OU. I have learned that the only way to improve student life for underrepresented students at the University of Oklahoma is to encourage and inspire them to be advocates for themselves and their peers and to have a louder voice on what many believe is a toxic campus (#yOUrBad). Remembering The Star Thrower, I promise to continue to work with my UCC counselor and to mentor underrepresented students. Through mental health counseling, I have gained momentum to continue to swim past the challenges I have faced, and I encourage others to do the same. Counseling truly helps, and I know this because I am proof of that. So if you're feeling down, please take a chance and ask someone to throw you back in the water before the tide comes in...
3 Words of Advice for Anyone Dealing with Depression by Noah Helsee In Johann Hari’s TED Talk about addiction (which is fantastic), he claims that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but connection. In my life, the same can be said for my mental health —the cure was connection. Let me explain. I have always been a healthy person—physically, mentally, emotionally—with only a few exceptions. Last school year was one of those exceptions. I was a sophomore coming off an incredible freshman year, where I had been constantly surrounded by awesome people and an incredible atmosphere in my residence hall. I was living with the same three people from the dorms, and was ready for another great year. The year didn’t go as planned. Some of my core relationships, for one reason or another, broke down. My apartment, which I had expected to be a life-giving environment like the year before, became a place where I dreaded being. I began displaying uncharacteristic behaviors: I would isolate myself in my room for hours; I remember feeling a sense of despair and pointlessness; I would avoid hanging out with people; I even went to the doctor during second semester because I was so exhausted all the time—a deep, oppressive exhausted that could not be remedied by coffee or extra sleep. Eventually, I began to realize what was happening, and I fought against it as hard as I could, telling myself, “I’m not this kind of person; I won’t submit to this.” That helped, but that exhaustion and sense of hopelessness still tried to claw its way into my life. Near the end of the year, I was at LifeGroup with my church, and we were all sharing about our lives and how we were doing. I remember being so afraid, thinking that by giving language to what I was feeling, I was giving power to the sickness. But I also knew that I needed to talk about it, so I took a deep breath and told them, “I’ve been displaying symptoms of depression.” Rather than give it more power in my life, however, this vulnerability was an incredibly freeing moment. Even with this experience, though, I entered this year afraid that I would slip back into those destructive habits, and once the year began it would be too much for me to handle again. But this year has been amazing. I used to hide in my room to do homework. This year I haven’t done homework there once. I used to avoid common spaces, like the kitchen. Now that’s where I spend most of my waking hours at home. I’m less involved on campus than I was last year, but I feel more important and more a part of it than I did. What I was searching for all of last year was not involvement or importance, but connection. I’m surrounded by connection. My roommates are amazing; I feel totally free to be myself and share my junk. Every day,
someone is over at our house studying, talking, hanging out, or watching movies. Whereas a year ago I wanted to escape my living situation, now my house is a place for others to escape to. As I write this, I realize that I haven’t dealt with depression in probably two months at least—and that’s amazing. Of course, my battle with depression was relatively mild. I know people who have had such crippling mental illness that they couldn’t even get out of bed in the morning. My purpose in sharing my story is not to say that everyone will experience healing in this way; it’s more about showing that healing is possible and encouraging people who are struggling. I realize that not everyone can change their living situation or find great friends easily. So I’ll just give three words of advice for anyone dealing with depression, or any kind of mental illness: 1. Vocalize. I know it’s terrifying, but tell someone. There’s no shame in struggling, and you actually give it more power by keeping it locked away and hidden. Having it all together is overrated, and you’re not fooling anyone. There are people who care about you, and they want to help you. 2. Socialize. This one was really hard for me. When I was dealing with this last year, I just wanted to put in my earbuds and go to my room and listen to my radio show—but that only made it worse. Sometimes making that effort will feel like a waste of time, but I promise it's worth it. 3. Connect. This one doesn’t come with a step-by-step process, and there is no one way to find connection—but it was the cure for me. Whether that means finding a new community, making the effort to meet up with someone once a week to talk about your mental health, or just calling your mom/dad every few days, it all helps. I could have made my life a lot easier last year if I had reached out to people who loved me and been honest with them. The University has resources, like the Counseling Center (I’ve been there) and Goddard, with doctors who can prescribe medicine, if that’s what you need. Use them—that’s why they exist. It’s better to err on the side of caution than to recognize a problem too late. Don’t be afraid. All of us want to be healthy, and one of the best remedies for mental illness is finding someone else who is struggling and connecting with them. Who knows? Maybe that connection will lead to healing—for both of you. 13
On Labels: Living with Bipolar Disorder and Medications by Kelsey Morris If there’s anything neurotypicals don’t understand about mental illness (and yeah, there’s a lot), it’s how crazies like me often feel the need to put labels on our symptoms, to research our life experiences, to find a name for whatever it is that makes our experiences, our perspectives, our very personalities so different than of normal people. Why, they ask me, do I have to put a name on it? What really is normal, anyway? We’re all a little crazy! I’m sooo OCD about organizing my bookshelf. Have you tried yoga? Well, first of all, now that I have the appropriate label, I don’t have to call neurotypicals normal people anymore. Because, no, I am not abnormal. I am atypical. Everyone has moods, and some of us may be moodier than others, but the average person does not have bipolar disorder. A year ago, I didn’t know what was wrong with me, just that sometimes I cried every day and experienced so much deadening emotional pain that I couldn’t get out of bed without tremendous effort for weeks at a time. But sometimes I was fine. More than fine, in fact. Sometimes, I would soar upwards out of a depressive episode with so much momentum it felt briefly like when I was a kid, flying so high on a park swing that I just might lift off and enter the earth’s orbit. This, I have since learned, is called hypomania. It lasts for a few days, and then I have drifted too far into space and am
suddenly swallowed by a black hole. It’s not a black hole, of course; no one could ever possibly travel that far in a lifetime (let alone in a weekend,) but the enormous darkness and gravity of the depression that follows a hypomanic episode certainly makes it feel that way. That’s quite the extended metaphor, so now that I have a more concise term for it, I call my experiences bipolar disorder, type two. This, to me, means that what I go through is real. I’m not just making this up in my head because I’m a lazy, overdramatic hypochondriac who craves attention, and has no friends, and should totally just go die.
I am a person with an illness. I have a mental illness. I am mentally ill. Do you see how I can say the same thing so many different times, and they can all mean different things?" Anyway, just as I’ve chosen to embrace the labels “bipolar” and “mentally ill,” so, too, have I decided to take medication. But do I really want to rely on pharmaceuticals? In a perfect world, no. I don’t enjoy choking down horse pills. I don’t like getting headaches when I miss a dose, I hate paying for prescriptions, and it’s inconvenient, given my tight schedule, that my medications make me drowsy. But if this sounds like a terrible fate, you’ve probably never had your life disrupted by an episode of severe depression. This month, as I was halfway through writing this piece, my psychiatrist took a vacation. This happened to be the same week I ran out of refills on my antidepressant medication. In the four days I didn’t have access to my medication, I became completely nonfunctional. I experienced crying fits, panic attacks, headaches, exhaustion so extreme that I slept until 6 pm on a school day, weakness, nausea, vomiting, disorientation, and a host of other symptoms. My brain chemistry is not something that can be treated with yoga, mindfulness, or therapy alone. I need my medications. To suggest otherwise is one of the most insulting things a person can say to me. This is not to say that pharmaceuticals are for everyone, or that there are no other options for treating mental illness. I would never assume that what works for me is what works for everyone. Likewise, I ask this: Don’t assume that those of us who use medications are just a bunch of mindless “Big Pharma” sycophants. We’re doing the best we can. 15
Ode to Tourette Syndrome by Rachel Whitfield Twisted sheets ‘til sunrise breathe the swirls on the ceiling to life: alike, a clock face and a cracked mirror derail thought diagnosed already. And the clock is tactful: it is ticcing, and I have been talking back— I have been tired for weeks, and I think the clock understands that. Because she is licking her lips, chapped like cherry blossoms chilled in ice. Except she blooms throughout the year, and for some reason I’m stuck here, crafting dirty coffins of midnight popcorn prayers. The bottles between the roof and the attic are glowing above the fan— the clock’s still ticcing, and their labels are sticking wherever they can land. The mirror is not so tactful; it tells a tasteless, morbid tale— it knows that I am timid— my wrists and I are frail.
Press your knuckles to my temples. Peel the bruises from my back. Whisper the whorls on the pads of your fingers across my walls. Trace the spools of string spread across your palms down every rung of my spine so that I’m forced to climb my way to your dreams. And if you peer through this thin veneer you find you hear the puzzle of a petulant insomniac peeling the paint from its pieces, caching those less-than-savory in the carpet, contemplating: hoping, waiting, sitting, praying, ribs open, gaping, with every string ready to be plucked, every piece positioned to be put in, every sleepless, silent night crying bright, like a pilot light, safe, stable, sacrifice— wake me! And she is licking her lips.
And she is licking her lips chapped, like cherry blossoms chilled in ice. Wake me. 16
Design by Rachel Whitfield
What Does Self-Care Look Like? A Student's Reflection by Valerie Senkowski Health, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), is “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” The way we care for ourselves, and promote our health, is not just about keeping our bodies functioning, but about experiencing a high quality of life. We all know intellectually that we should nourish and appreciate our bodies. However, with ever-shifting priorities and responsibilities, the way we care for ourselves is as divided as our attention. We have different physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual needs to which we must attend. One approach, such as “you’ll feel better if you just get out of the house,” is not sufficient for meeting all of our goals in all areas of our lives. Strategies for self-care, for nourishing our “self” and not just our physical body, vary from person to person, and even from day to day. The Reasoned Action Approach is a behavior theory that posits that people act based on their reasoning, and that reasoning is not always rational. We make decisions, weighing the pros and cons of both action and outcome, and those metrics are not always apparent or understood by others. We may not even understand them ourselves! When we have competing priorities, we may be taking care of one need or want at the expense of another. Self-care is essential to health, but it is often oversimplified as people just needing a break, a distraction, or a treat. In clinical terms, one WHO definition for self-care is “health-related decision-making and care undertaken by individuals, family and communities.” Self-care is a process of self-reflection and action, and regarding yourself with unflinching honesty about what your needs are and what you can do that will really help you meet those needs. In what areas are you overextended and burned out? What areas are you neglecting and not giving enough attention? What adds value and joy to your life, and what is lackluster? Ultimately, what behaviors and choices will invigorate and empower your life, and what kinds of self-care just push issues aside? Not everyone has a diagnosed mental illness, but everyone has experienced a time when they did not take care of themselves as well as they could have. Self-care can be the armor that protects us, the encouragement that uplifts us, and the stillness that quiets us. I encourage each of you to take time to reflect and ask yourself what do I need to feel, and be, well? Then take some time to care of yourself, and to reach that ideal state that is “health.” 18
Resource List for Mental Health Hotlines, OU Options, and More Info Compiled by Ashley Jeffalone OU Student Affairs
OU Goddard Counseling
Costs & Insurance: No cost or insurance; to report discrimination, physical or mental harassment or misconduct, call 24-hr Reporting Hotline at 844-428-6531. Access: 8am-5pm M-F Location: 900 Asp Avenue, Suite 265, Norman, OK 73019 To make appointments: Call 405325-3161 during business hours or visit their office on the second floor of the Oklahoma Memorial Union.
Costs & Insurance: Only OU student health plan insurance is accepted —those with other insurance are charged fee of $10 for counseling and $25 for initial intake appt. Access: 8am-5pm M-F Location: 620 Elm Ave, Rm. 201, Norman, OK 73019. To make appointments: Call 405325-2911 during business hours or visit 2nd floor office of Goddard Health Center.
OU Disabilities Resource Center
OU Counseling Psychology Clinic
Costs & Insurance: None—you just have to be an OU student. Access: 8am-5pm M-F Location: 730 College Avenue – University Community Center, Norman, OK 73019 To make appointments: Call 405325-3852 during business hours or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Costs & Insurance: Fees determined based on sliding scale, depending on income, number of dependents, and needs. Payment expected at service. Access: M-T (Sat mornings available in summer.) Location: 3200 Marshall Ave, Norman, OK 73019 To make appointments: Call 405325-2914 during business hours.
Crisis Text Line: 741741 Depression Hotline: 1-630-482-9696 Suicide Hotline: 800-SUICIDE (784-2433)
Mental Health and Relationships: Balancing Dating and Mental Health by Lindsey Scott
The night I met Grayson was one I will never forget. I had been a social recluse after my diagnoses for depression and anxiety summer of my junior year. I spent all my free time in counseling at Goddard, sleeping, or attending class, so the fact I had felt human enough to go to my sorority date party was a big step. I walked into the room, being greeted by caring friends who missed me, only to feel a presence in the room. The presence felt warm and strong, like someone I had known my entire life. Confused by this new feeling, I started scanning the room looking for this mystery presence that had captured my attention. What I saw was the back of a head - Grayson’s head, actually. I knew he was who I was looking for. When Grayson turned around and I saw his face for the first time I heard a voice inside me say, “If you don’t talk to him you will regret it for the rest of your life.” I walked over and introduced myself to him at the night’s end. Though we didn’t talk for very long, I knew that we were going to date and a month later I was right. Our relationship was more than I could have ever hoped for, but at the same time, nervewracking. I had never met anyone that really intrigued me the way Grayson did. I knew he cared about me so much that I was hesitant to tell him about my depression and anxiety. I talked to my counselor about how I was feeling towards telling Grayson about it. The advice she gave me was to not let the fear get in the way of my happiness. I took her advice to heart and decided to tell him after a few months of dating. When I sat down to tell him, all I could keep thinking about was that this would be the end. The thing about mental illness is that it’s like a fingerprint. It’s different for every person and affects them on different levels. Honestly, I did not know if he would be able to see me for more than my conditions once I told him. Crying, I told him my story. I explained how bad my depression and anxiety could be and how I was still working through my challenges. Grayson showered me with so much affection, while understanding that my conditions were not my identity.
After two years of dating, I can tell that two things have happened because of my confession that day: one, we grew stronger as a couple, and two, we have learned how to be there actively for each other. What I mean by actively being there is that we know what questions to ask, what things to say, and how to comfort one another in the best way possible. No one has the answer to how to have a perfect relationship, including the presence of mental illnesses or not. I know my story is unique but not rare. Other people are going through similar challenges in their life and are battling mental health issues, too. Grayson has struggles some days â€“ everyone does â€“ and we deal with that differently. As our relationship has grown, we know how to help each other. We also know we cannot chase away each otherâ€™s problems. We acknowledge that there is only so much we can do for one another. The only person who can fix you is yourself, but you should be open to receive help to do so, whether it is love from a serious relationship, kind words from friends, or the support of family. I am by no means finished battling anxiety and depression, and Grayson will never be able to cure it for me. What I do know is that having someone to talk to, like a counselor, him, and other people who love me, will help me through the healing process. It is a blessing to have him by my side. Grayson knows I am not my anxiety and depression and I know he is not his bad days. I know love, in all forms, is the greatest way to help me heal, and the peace that gives to me is so calming. My advice to those unsure about seriously dating while working through their mental health is to not let yourself get in the way of your own happiness. It takes a lot of self-awareness and balance to avoid becoming dependent on someone else in that vulnerable state, but it is possible. Our relationship continues to thrive because we support one another but also keep up an individual strength within ourselves. Mental health issues are a strong force, but our future together is stronger.
Asphyxiation by Carey Flack “How does it feel to be back in America?” My friend Alex asked me in awe. I almost thought she asked what it felt like to be Black in America. In that case, I would’ve said “frustrating”. I guess I heard her wrong for a quarter of a second, though. Alex figured that 30 days in Jamaica would’ve made me a little homesick. Which is a fair evaluation, but far from how I truly felt? In fact, I’d only been back in the states for about 48 hours and had already experienced two bouts of stress-related nausea. I turned to her, my eyes seemingly gazing at a small, distant object outside on the quiet street. “I feel like I just got thrown into a pool of ice cold water,” I replied to her under my breath. My hands shifted in discomfort around my small cup of English tea. “I keep gasping for more air, but — ” I paused. She looked at me. “..But what, Carey?” Alex said very kindly and inquisitively; hoping that maybe, just maybe, a silver-lining would come about this revelation. “But I keep getting pushed back into the cold water,” I spoke up this time, raising my brown eyes to meet her blue ones. She was stunned. “And the further down I’m pushed, the more I struggle. And the worse I feel,” I concluded. I looked out of the window and at the tall trees in the foreground. They were so dull and lifeless. I felt like I had something in common with them these days. “It often feels like the walls are closing in on me,” I continued relentlessly. “I am struggling to exist. I can’t breathe, Alex, I can’t breathe.” She grabbed my hand while the deafening moment of silence permeated throughout the quiet café in which we were sitting.
This piece predates the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, who were shot and killed by police right after the Fourth of July — America’s national celebration of independence. 22
Being Flexible in a Demanding World: A Professional's Perspective by Brad Stennerson Life is hard. For everyone. It’s easy to forget this because we minimize our own challenges by playing the “but who has it worse?” game. We can always win that game by pointing out starving children in developing Country X, our sister’s friend who’s dealing with Y, or those people on the news suffering from Z. Our problems seem petty then, and we feel petty for worrying about them. What gets lost in this game is the simple fact that being a human, just existing, is difficult business at times. We must engage in respiration constantly. Our bodies need energy to move and think and pump blood and make new cells, which means we need a steady supply of edible food with the right vitamins and nutrients. We need a reliable source of clean water, shelter, security, healthy attachments, medical care, clothing, planning and organization, social skills, motivation, belong-ing, critical thinking, a sense of purpose, and on and on. Just getting through a single day means a lot of things have to go right. And life rarely happens the way we plan. Fortunately, humans are miraculous, adaptable beings. Our lives involve ups as well as downs, triumphs as well as challenges. And we can adapt to meet the challenges. We can adjust. Mental health in my opinion is essentially this: maintaining our ability to flexibly adapt to the shifting demands of life. Using this definition, if we were to graph the average person’s mental health over the course of their life, it would rise and fall in different places. We could probably connect some of the down slopes to certain events: losses, traumatic incidents, unhealthy relationships, financial problems, unexpected setbacks, medical issues, and periods of transition – just to name a few. Stress, without a doubt, can significantly impact our mental health. Studying at the University of Oklahoma can be intellectually and socially enriching – a time of great excitement and discovery – but it can also be a time of high stress and difficult transition. College students are met with new responsibilities, novel problems, unfamiliar social landscapes, and the weighty task of setting the course the rest of their lives will follow. It’s no wonder many of us experience a dip in our mental health during these years. We may notice the development or exacerbation of excessive worry, feelings of loneliness or isolation, difficulty getting out of bed, or a host of other issues. When facing a difficult problem, we use available resources, both internal and external, and work to overcome. Mental health is no different, and for a mental health problem, counseling is great place to start. OU’s Counseling Center in Goddard Health Center is available to all stud-ents, faculty and staff, and our counselors are understanding of and sensitive to the unique challenges of studying/working on a college campus. But the Counseling Center is just one resource. Any OU staff member or student could be a potential resource or source of support – resident advisors, professors, advisors, classmates, etc. – and each can help connect you to other resources, groups, or communities. Develop a strong support system, and get involved. No person is an island. We all need connection and support. Life may be hard at times, but it need not be overwhelming. With the help and support of others, you will find there are few challenges you cannot overcome.
Lost at Sea Surviving Suicide and What to Do Next by Sydney Miyoko Wright
When people hear "mental disorder," they tend to think the worse. I know when I was younger, I thought it was "bad" to be different. When I heard certain celebrities struggling from either depression or bipolar, I viewed them differently, and I judged them. Coming from a house that didn't really talk about our problems or feelings, I always felt alone. It felt like I was lost at sea, drowning in vast open watersâ€”no one to hear my cries or calls. I have now been struggling with depression for six years. After trying to commit suicide two years ago, it was finally time to talk. Being vulnerable is the hardest, toughest, and scariest thing a human can do. Having people know your deepest and darkest thoughts is terrifying. I was afraid people would pity me, judge me, and even reject me. However, I am lucky to have such loving and caring parents. When they discovered I had taken over 30 pills of hydrocodone and found me semiconscious in my car, they hugged me and showered me with love. Opening up was releasing. I was a new person. I realized I wasn't alone in life. Through therapy, I was able to change my family dynamics. As I grew, they grew. I taught them that it's okay to talk about our failures, our emotions, and our troubles. I want kids to have an outlet, a safe place to talk. Although OU has these spaces, like the Goddard Counseling Center, students don't take advantage of them, whether it's because they are too afraid or think they don't need it. I want mental health to be the top news at OU. College is difficult and confusing, and it's easy for a person to feel lost. By reaching out to students, rather than waiting for them coming to us, we can make a difference in each of their lives. Talking about mental health out in the open exposes the falsity 24
of the stigmas that face it. By interacting with students and holding events with different speakers, we can ignite a change here on campus, and even history. By making OU mental health services more available and popular, through getting the word out and popularizing it, students will be more willing to seek help. Informing them that it's natural to feel lost, alone, and confused sometimes, I want them to know they have a support system, that even if they can't open up to their friends and families, they have us. Recommending them to OU counselors and letting them know their options will help them feel less stressed. Having complicated steps to get help hinders our mission, but by making the process easy and simple, we will gather more students. In a world where acceptance and tolerance is becoming more common, we won't have to mask our "problems" to the world. We are strong. We have survived through obstacles that felt like mountains. We prevailed through the hardest of times. Mental health should be a priority here at OU.
How Do We Make a Safe Place For Students? - A Chat with Dr. Frey Interview by Miranda Koutahi How do mental illnesses affect a student's learning processes and motivation to learn? This is truly an excellent question--it's the crutch of the problem. Mentality is all about the patterns of the way people think, feel and behave. Those thoughts and feelings are what cause stress. It goes beyond that for those with mental illness. People who suffer form mental illness aren't just in a sad mood. Mental illness, as experienced by students, affects their functioning in the classroom in lots of ways, from how they interact with others, focus on their learning, their level of mood, etc. Another thing to keep in mind is that sometimes when they are diagnosed and are on medications, those medications can have side effects, too. What steps has OU taken to create safe learning environments for students affected by mental illness? What steps can they take that they have not yet? Not long ago, a student group called OUr Mental Health developed around advocating for mental illness. That sort of student-led advocacy group is crucial. A group effort to advocate for mental health awareness is crucial because students know what's happening in their classrooms. They can communicate what their needs are. The Disability Resource Center (DRC) does a great job. Students who are really struggling with mental health issues need to go to the DRC and get registered to work with them. They can really help students get the accommodations they need. I do think one thing that would be helpful would be for the university to think about educating faculty more about working with students in class who do have mental illnesses." However, that's something that demands a lot of time, and there's only so much you can do. The DRC is also available to faculty who need instructional strategies for working with students afflicted by mental health. They should also refer those students to the DRC. That interdepartmental support can be helpful to many students who need a variety of learning styles, not just lecturing, to succeed. What can friends and family do for someone they love who has been diagnosed with a mental health issue? When your child or friend is at university, stay in contact with them. Let them know you're there as part of their support system. Advocate for them when talking to others or stepping in with the university, but also let them gain independence. If you live far away from them, help them make connections and identify support in the surrounding area. Remind them of their coping strategies, help them think through difficulties, and remind them that they've struggled before and successfully emerged on the other end. Remind them that a mental illness diagnosis does not define them. They are a strong person with many other attributes and identities other than an illness. What's something you'd like to inform people about mental illness? One crucial thing people forget is that these kids who struggle with mental illness--it isn't their choice. They're not choosing to have trouble paying attention or things like that. I believe people on campus need to have a better understanding of and reflect on the larger stigma attached to a mental health-related diagnosis. What we deal with on campus is a microcosm of a larger issue. Do you have any advice for students who are reading this issue and are currently struggling with a mental illness? My first advice for students is that you need to get help; you need to go to Goddard or us [the Counseling Psychology Clinic] or the DRC. Reach out, although it's very difficult to do if you're in the throes of certain types of mental illness. It's difficult to ask for help when you feel so isolated, but the times you least want to do it are the times when you have to do it. Hold that part of you that doesn't want to intact and do it anyhow. If you need to, ask someone you trust for help. The most important thing is to reach out to somebody. If you feel like you don't have anybody like that, pick someone that seems like a good candidate. There are many 1-800 lines that you can call for help, too. The most important thing is to talk to someone, anyone.
About the Contributors Hannah Scout Anvar is a junior studying Psychology and Women & Gender Studies. They are genderfluid, suffer from mental illness, and their personal mission is to advocate for other members of the LGBTQAI+ community, including folks with disabilities. Raised in an Iranian household, they were published in Brainstorm (OU writing journal in 2016) and have have presented at the Take Root Conference (on mental health stigmas in western culture) and the National Conference for Racial Equality (on how they navigate white and male-dominated spaces as a genderqueer Iranian body in 2016.) Amanda Awad is a graduating Psychology major who hopes to get her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and become a mental health professional. She is both OUFORUM Director of Media and the Outreach Coordinator for OUr Mental Health. She is passionate about intersectional social justice, cats, music, and nature.
Carey Flack is an OU senior studying Entrepreneurship and double-minoring in African-American Studies and Social Justice. You can read about the startup she founded, her community organizing efforts, or order her most recent zine, REVIVAL + ROOTS (featuring the above poem and much more) at careyjflack.com. "Asphyxiation" was written upon Carey's return to the US from summer 2016 studies in Jamaica.
Noah Helsee is a junior Letters major at OU, who spends his free time writing, watching Star Wars, playing basketball, and causing trouble.
About the Contributors
Ashley Jeffalone is a section editor for OU Forum, Psychology major, and an aspiring writer.
Ben Kannenberg is a Chemical Biosciences and International Studies junior from Butler, Wisconsin. He is the current Chair of OUr Mental Health, having previously served as Outreach Coordinator.
Kelsey Morris is a second-year Sociology student minoring in Medical Humanities and Social Justice. She is involved with OU Debate and various social justice organizations on campus.
Lindsey Scott is a writer and Multidisciplinary Studies senior at OU. Her interests include cooking, cats, and making people laugh. She loves pizza and good coffee. Her dream is to help people with her stories.
Valerie Senkowski, a first year Ph.D. student of Health Promotion in the Department of Health and Exercise Science, likes to try out new board games with friends in her spare time.
About the Contributors Dr. Brad Stennerson is a psychologist at the OU Counseling Center. He earned his Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from OU. While earning his doctorate, he worked with the OU Disability Resource Center and military veterans suffering from trauma and researched behavioral addictions. In addition to working with the OU Counseling Center, Stennerson also offers assistance to clients through Hope Springs Therapy in Norman, OK.
Charles Terry, M.Ed, partners with students and leaders to create energizing performance art. Charles's hope for humanity is that performance art will empower students and leaders to critically engage communities.
Rachel Whitfield is the OU FORUM Director of Marketing and an OU sophomore double-majoring in Writing and Marketing with a minor in Spanish. Before OU she studied poetry for three years at the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute. You can find her poetry in these anthologies. “Ode to Tourette Syndrome” concerns Rachel’s experience with Tourette’s and anxiety. Info on Tourette Syndrome: www.tourettesyndrome.net. Sydney Miyoko Wright is a Psychology major on a pre-med track. She's from Edmond, Oklahoma and believes "talking about mental health is scary, but by doing that, it makes it easier." Dr. Melissa Frey, professor in Educational Psychology, is a director of the Counseling Psychology Clinic in Norman, OK. Her teaching and research foci are feminist- and social justice-oriented, and include sexual violence, gender roles and nonconformity, and relational cultural theory. She has an undergraduate degree in Nursing, a Master's in Human Development and the Family, and a doctorate in Philosophy from The University of Nebraska.
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Published on Oct 17, 2016
A compilation of student personal stories, advice, student group efforts, professor perspectives, and student poetry/artwork on Mental Healt...