The Undergraduate Student Government’s External Relations committee and Wellness Affairs committee hosted the “Voices of USC — The Mental Health Climate” event on campus Wednesday evening in the Trojan Conference room at the Engemann Student Health Center. Voices of USC is an open forum and safe space for students to discuss issues pertinent to them.
The evening’s event was in honor of Mental Health Awareness month at USC. The evening consisted of a thorough discussion of many topics pertaining to mental health and its stigma on our campus. The panel that led the discussion consisted of Diane Medsker, a health promotion specialist at the health center; Hannah Nguyen, director of the Academic Cultural Assembly; and Austin Churchill, assistant director of Wellness Affairs.
The panel opened the event by citing some mental health statistics. Nguyen informed the attendees of reports that 25 percent of all U.S. adults have a mental illness. Medsker then added that according to the American College Health Association, international students at USC identify stress and anxiety as the top two factors that most negatively and most frequently affect academic performance.
The panel then moved into the discussion portion of the event. To begin, they asked the audience to define mental health.
“When I think about mental health, I think it is really interesting that we separate it from physical health. It is always physical health and mental health,” one student said. “Often physical health can affect mental health, and mental health can affect physical health so easily.”
Following the initial question, the panel began to talk about the stigma of mental health both in general and on university campuses like USC. They also identified potential reasons for why the stigma exists. One attendee described her take on the environment at USC in terms of mental health.
“USC is a very competitive place inside and outside the classroom,” she said. “I think that people here connect having mental health issues with weakness and that a lot of people try to hide that so that they can appear to be doing well. I think that people force that happiness upon themselves on the outside even though it may not translate to what is on the inside.”
She went on to describe that even if people do choose to reach out for help, it is sometimes met with insincere promises of people who will “always be there if you need to reach out,” perhaps on social media or otherwise. To respond to such concerns, the panel described various resources available on campus to help treat mental health issues.
Kelly Greco, a staff psychologist on campus addressed this, citing her personal experiences with students.
“If you are feeling that you are not getting your needs met, what I always say to a student is to please call me back if you need any additional assistance,” Greco said. “I don’t think that students know that they can call me back directly. I am the point person now; you don’t need to go through this anymore in terms of calling the front desk and setting something up.”
Next, the counseling center staff opened up the floor to suggestions from students as to how to improve their practice. Together, attendees brainstormed ideas ranging from adding mental health education to freshmen orientation programming, adding a more diversified counseling staff to better understand marginalized groups, adding mental health surveys to other University data collection efforts in order to gain statistics on the student body and present it back to them, and utilizing Facebook events to remind students about upcoming mental health events on campus.
In her closing, Nguyen addressed the entire audience.
“Thank you to the students who shared their stories and perspectives on this issue. Thank you for being brave,” she said. “Staff…I hope what you’ve learned from these students will help you go back and enact change. And to everyone, this isn’t the end or the last conversation. The conversation around this issue needs to continue. I urge you to keep voicing your opinions, to fight on and make mental health issues a priority for all students.”