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Student leaders discuss mental health culture at IU



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International Student Ambassadors Co-Director Eric Gu engages in an icebreaker activity during Culture of Care’s Mental Health Summit on Friday evening in the Indiana Memorial Union Oak Room.  Andrew Williams Buy Photos

Lack of understanding typically is not the reason people avoid confronting others about mental health, Chris Meno, coordinator of outreach and consultation for Counseling and Psychological Services, told student leaders Friday evening. 

It’s fear. 

"It's the emotions that get in peoples way,” Meno said. “And that's where you all, as student leaders, have the power to change things."

Culture of Care had its second annual Mental Health Summit on Friday evening in the Indiana Memorial Union Oak Room, bringing together representatives from multiple student organizations to identify and discuss how to improve mental health culture at IU. 

“People want to do something now,” said Molly Cunningham, director of mental health for Culture of Care. “And they want to work together.”

Students from IU Student Association, Balance at Kelley, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Crimson CORPS, U Bring Change 2 Mind, Panhellenic Association, International Student Ambassadors and Culture of Care divided into small groups to share common issues their organizations notice.

Sophomore Isabel Mishkin, chief of the health and wellbeing committee for IUSA, said she wanted to increase awareness about the mental health resources available to students.

“How would you know how to improve your mental health, or how to even assess your mental health, if those tools aren't ready for you to use?” Mishkin asked. 

Students agreed improving IU Health Center’s marketing could help students recognize existing services, such as CAPS’ after-hours crisis line. 

They thought placing a health and wellbeing professional in each residence hall might help make counseling services more accessible. 

Mishkin cited Let’s Talk Now, a drop-in counseling service available in several places on campus, as a model she’d like to replicate. 

Improving international students’ perceptions about mental health care was another topic addressed. 

Junior Ricky Liu, an international student ambassador, said in the discussion that she wants to promote mental health awareness among international students, whose native cultures often don’t address mental health as openly as Americans do.  

"When you don't have this cultural background, you don't understand where the stress and illness is coming from," Liu said. 

To normalize mental health care, students brainstormed the idea of using new student orientations to show incoming students stories of those who have benefited from the mental health services on campus. 

After sharing several other observations about areas of improvement, students discussed how to turn their ideas into prolonged conversations. 

They considered replicating the Mental Health Summit more frequently and formally, engaging in conversations on a smaller scale and encouraging collaboration in casual environments. 

“We have concrete things we can do on campus,” Cunningham said. 

She said it’s important this conversation originate from students because, ultimately, students have a better grasp on what it’s like to live at the University. 

“It’s what we need, and what we want, and what we want to make sure happens,” Cunningham said.

Editor's note: Molly Cunningham is a member of IU Student Media as the editor-in-chief of the Arbutus yearbook, a sister-publication of the Indiana Daily Student.

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