Free Minds hosts mental health panel

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Week, USC Free Minds United presented an evening devoted entirely to understanding students’ mental health challenges on Tuesday.

“Mental Health: A Dialogue” included guest speakers from different fields, such as the Engemann Student Health Center Counseling office, the USC Department of Public Safety, the Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center and the Keck Hospital of USC.

The co-presidents of the organization, students Danny Lee and Patra Childress, spoke about the purpose of the event and how they selected the panelists for the event.

“[The event hopes to address] mental health in university life and the general culture at USC and how it promotes mental wellness,” Lee said.

Free Minds was established as a student organization in the spring of 2012. The group works to raise awareness about mental illness in the USC community through film.

“We started out as a small group but now we’re trying to become non-profit and open up chapters in different colleges,” Lee said.

According to Lee, the biggest misconceptions of mental health on the USC campus is the fact that people do not want to seek help.

“People want to seek help but they just don’t want to say it to their peers,” he said.

Panelists discussed different aspects of mental health and illnesses at USC, including how the USC community promotes wellness and how symptoms can be better identified.

Dr. Lynette Merriman, the assistant provost for support and advocacy, said there is no one way to approach problems about students.

“Student to student, they’re going to have unique challenges, unique limitations,” she said.

Emily Sandoval, the assistant director for the East Area in the Office of Residential Education, mentioned the different types of support the organization provides for students.

“Our level of response to make sure students are supported is [having] RAs on duty every night, graduate students on duty every night and there is a professional staff member on call,” Sandoval said.

Officer Sabrina Brown from the USC Dept. of Public Safety explained the role of the DPS in mental health situations.

“A lot of times with the DPS, it depends on basically how the information comes to us. It can be very different. What happens is when we do respond, because we’re in uniform, students think they are going to jail, and that’s not the case,” Brown said.

Some students were pleased to see the school make a point to address mental health issues.

“I thought this was a very well-spoken panel. There are a lot of people [who are] very knowledgeable about the field here so it was definitely providing very clear answers [regarding] where to go for help,” said Krysti Teng, a senior majoring in psychology. “I definitely think it’s an issue that needs to be brought to the attention within the L.A. region and the nation.”

Others believed having such an open event might help those struggling with mental illness cope.

“I think seeing the different people who deal with these problems on campus should be very comforting for students who didn’t know otherwise,” said Mary Stepanyan, a senior majoring in human development and aging.