By Chelsea Weeks, News Editor (Photo by Jonathan Soder/The Bison)
Anxiety for an upcoming test, an awkward eating schedule, or depression over a relationship are common issues many college students face.
However, these issues also impact a student’s overall mental health.
OBU students gathered Tuesday, March 13, at 3:30 to discuss the topic of mental health. Throughout the night, students were able to ask questions to a board of panelists who spoke from their areas of expertise.
Panelists included Dr. Paul Donnelly, assistant professor of criminal justice, Dr. Tara Signs, director of Marriage and Family Therapy Clinical, Dr. Christopher McMillion, assistant professor of political science, Dr. Robin Brothers, assistant professor of nursing, and Mr. Mason Phillips, an adjunct professor and OBU alumni.
“Let’s Talk at OBU should serve as a model for our country in how to have these conversations,” president of SGA Hunter Doucette said. “I find one of the hardest things to do, is to make others care about something that doesn’t directly touch them. Let’s Talk opens the eyes of students in many regards, to issues that they may never have been familiar with. Let’s Talk has the potential to create advocates.”
Mental health covers the emotional, psychological and social aspects of life. How one feels, thinks, acts and responds to stress, all relate to mental health. A variety of factors can contribute to the state of someone’s mental health, whether it’s brain chemistry, life experiences or family history.
“I think if we can begin to talk and understand it, people can make informed decisions about things they do in their life and how they respond to the stressors of life, I think everyone’s better served,” Donnelly said.
“As Christians, I don’t think we recognize, and are sensitive enough, to what goes on on campus. There are kids who are really struggling to a variety of issues. If we can talk about it and not make it a taboo subject, in that it’s okay to admit that you have a problem, that you have an issue and know where you can get help.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 50 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their life.
Mental health has always been looked down upon throughout American history and has had a negative stigma attached to it.
“I’ve seen over the years how mental health has been increasingly criminalized,” Donnelly said. “For example, the largest mental health facility in the state of Texas is the Harris County Jail. In other words, there are more people receiving mental health treatment in jail than in any place else in the entire state,” he said.
“My direct experience is seeing the criminalization of mental health. My concern, however, has grown because of experiences with family and friends who’ve wrestled with some serious mental health issues and how that impacts on families and their life [structure].”
OBU’s Student Government Association started the Let’s Talk sessions last semester and hopes to have another one before the spring semester is over. The hope is to not only discuss more issues in the future, but revisit some covered in the past.
“It is important for student government to sponsor these events because we represent a diverse population and the issues we discuss affect particular groups differently,” Doucette said. “Therefore, it is vital firstly, for the sake of community at OBU, to understand how these sensitive subjects are viewed through various lenses,” he said.
“Secondly, it provides students with the necessary knowledge to engage in public discourse and effectively communicate with those outside of OBU. Christians need to be on the frontlines seeking justice. These events better equip students to do just that.”
Donnelly said he enjoys the Let’s Talk sessions because he sees the power behind students who are becoming not only educated on these sensitive issues, but also are motivated to take action.
“The greatest impact I’ve seen as a result of Let’s Talk is OBU students being able to have civil discourse on issues that usually divide our nation,” Doucette said.
“Students are more prone to listen to one another and by doing that, are able to see that there is much more in common than what separates. These conversations do not end once students walk out the door. Issues are being discussed in the dorms, in the GC, in the caf, in the classroom.”
OBU offers free therapy sessions to all OBU students, staff and faculty. The OBU Marriage and Family Therapy Clinic is located on the first floor of Shawnee Hall. They are open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.