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Wingate marks recent World Mental Health Day, prompts students to check out the Counseling Center

Photo by Wingate University

In surveys, nearly half of Wingate University students report experiencing some type of mental health issue. But only 15 percent of students visited the Counseling Center last year.

World Mental Health Day, which was celebrated on Oct. 10, can help get the word out that it’s OK to ask for help.

“Our mental health needs support sometimes just like our physical health does,” says Melinda Frederick, director of the Counseling Center.

Frederick encourages students to make an appointment with the Counseling Center if they’ve ever thought they might need counseling, and she emphasizes that the Center’s location in the same building as the Health Center guarantees anonymity. The Counseling Center features three full-time counselors and three part-time counselor interns, and each Wingate student gets up to 10 free counseling sessions each semester.

Students often feel much better before their first session is over. “With things like anxiety, there’s so much you can do to get people relief that they can sometimes see relief pretty quickly,” Frederick says. “That’s been exciting to see.”

In a bid to get students to take their mental health seriously, last month Campus Recreation and the Counseling Center teamed up to bring Fresh Check Day to campus, and Frederick says that the mental-health-promotion and suicide-prevention event was a big success. A nationwide program implemented by colleges around the country, Fresh Check Day features different stations where students can learn about mental health and available resources in a fun and interactive way.

At Wingate, students could get Lyceum credit by participating in activities at five or more of the eight Fresh Check booths set up on the lawn in front of the Stegall Building. Frederick says that more than 160 students participated.

“The students seemed to enjoy the activities, and they were really meaningful,” she says. “I left there with some more hope and encouragement about mental health in general.”

At one booth, run by the Art Therapy Club, students wrote messages to themselves on a drawing of a large brain. At another, students were encouraged to write something they were worried about on one side of a lemon and a personal strength on the other. They then sliced the lemon in half and squeezed it to make lemonade.

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“That was a very good visual,” Frederick says.

At the Mood Matters booth, members of the Mental Health Awareness Club had students decorate masks. “We talked about different disorders, such as bipolar disorder I and II, anxiety and depression,” says Kyle Countryman, president of the club. “We would get them to design and paint a mask. Afterward we gave them a card and got them to write, ‘What does my mask mean to me?’”

The booths appear to have had the desired effect. According to survey data, about 65 percent of Wingate students said they felt more aware of the warning signs of suicide and more prepared to help a potentially suicidal friend after attending Fresh Check Day, and 75 percent said they were more aware of mental-health resources available to them.

Anxiety is one of the most common mental-health challenges among college students. Social media and the overabundance of information available today, much of it negative in nature, can lead to feelings of worry and hopelessness. Especially for young people, a feeling of being overwhelmed can lead to a sort of paralysis.

“One way we can feel anxious is if we overestimate the threat and underestimate our ability to cope with it,” Frederick says.

The pandemic didn’t help things. Teenagers who were supposed to be learning how to interact with others, deal with adults and solve problems were instead stuck at home, unable to socialize in person. “So they’re coming to college with fewer skills, or less practice,” Frederick says. The diminished social and other skills just up the anxiety level for many students.

The good thing is that students today are more willing to discuss mental-health issues than in the past. The Mental Health Awareness Club, for instance, has almost 80 members. They meet for support and to develop coping strategies for the hard times.

Events like Fresh Check Day help destigmatize mental health too.

“We’re just trying to make it accessible and make it OK to come get some help and some new coping skills,” Frederick says.

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