Mental health isn’t discussed a lot on campus. I know mental health might be scary to some, but the word shouldn’t drive us away from the conversation. Mental health isn’t just about sadness, depression, or negative emotions—it’s about the positive ones too. Understanding mental health is an essential step in promoting better well-being for yourself, and we all deserve and need that in our lives.
I heard little information on mental health during orientation, even though I desperately needed that information settling into a completely new environment. I have seen a few resources, events, or even informational material dedicated to the subject of mental health and understanding it better. There’s a small corner next to the counselor’s office that has pamphlets on different mental health issues, but it’s a small corner that’s hidden from most people. We need more than these few resources when we’re talking about mental health.
Recently the Breathe Club held a mental health forum on campus that about 10 people attended. Breathe is the revival of an old club that aims to bring about mental-health awareness on campus, while also providing ways to promote the healthy well-being of all on campus. Even with a few people in attendance, the discussion that went on was incredibly insightful. I learned from so many of my peers their problems with how Soka handles mental health, what we can improve here on campus, and things that affect our mental health here at Soka. After that first meeting, I created a list that brings these concerns together. Administration is beginning to address some of these issues. This list can and will probably grow as we move forward, but hopefully, decrease as things are improved.
- Our one counselor is often overbooked, making it difficult to accommodate all of the student body and make time for all students who need the resources. Recently, the process was initiated to add a part-time counselor for this next fall term.
- The “Soka Bubble” often makes us feel suffocated, so we need more opportunities to connect with the outside world more. To this end, there needs to be more travel resources available for those who don’t have cars.
- We need to have surveys that focus on how the students feel about workloads and overall how they mentally feel about their classes and present it to faculty. Classes shouldn’t just be examined solely in terms of content and teaching style, but how they mentally make students feel as well.
- There are days when mental health is a legitimate reason students don’t feel like going to class and can’t. It should be a valid excuse as mental health and education go hand in hand.
- The SUA community, particularly the administration needs to take into account intersectionality within the topic of mental health. Identities, background, and overall life experiences vary and affect everyone’s mental health differently. Therefore, different resources are needed for specific demographics as our school is so diverse.
- We need support groups led by students and/or held by organizations off-campus for specific issues that students want to be addressed. Since we have one counselor for a 400-plus student body, we need to utilize more resources like workshops and support groups, and off-campus organizations that are professionally trained but also mesh well with our student body.
- Health and Wellness classes don’t give you many strategies on how to take care of yourself, and one teacher is responsible for teaching the entire student body on it. Improvements need to be made to make the content more effective.
- People who are not well informed on mental health issues should still be provided with information on how to recognize and understand mental health problems. Some people don’t recognize the signs and symptoms because they might not have much or any experience with them.
- We need to create more outlets where people can express their thoughts about mental health in different modes of expression, including artistic ones. More conversation needs to be generated in workshops, forums, and even more informal events like Arts and Crafts or a Spa Night.
- Mental Health forums need to happen more on campus in bigger spaces and with a wider audience to get a broader and more effective input. Everyone should be showing up to either share their voices and/or support the voices of their peers.
I believe there is so much more to be added to this list, while at the same time the SUA community should strive to decrease the list rather than continue to feed its growth. Improvement isn’t a short and fast process. First, we must start the conversation and then go from there, but that conversation needs to be as big as we can get it. The goal is to improve mental health awareness and the well-being of all on campus. It won’t take only the support of faculty but the dedication of the entire SUA community in order to improve student experiences. We have to demand these changes and speak to what we desire, and faculty and administration should take us seriously. Mental health should not be taken lightly by any means.
Even taking that small step into account, mental health and mental health awareness isn’t something new. Problems have been ongoing for a while, but that has given many others and me even more motivation to advocate for actual change. The more we demand and advocate for, the more steps towards an overall greater transformation.
Ren Aguilar is spearheading the revival of the Breathe Club along with a group of Soka students. For more information about the club and its initiatives, visit the Breathe website at https://breathesua.weebly.com/