Checking Up on UGBC's Mental Health Initiative

Some things on campus are comfortingly stagnant: the Maloney elevators will always elevate, the Walsh walls will always vibrate on weekend nights and UGBC will remain a faceless entity occasionally inviting you to Facebook events with an eagle logo.

But this is not the way it has to be. Sometimes, taking the Million Dollar Stairs provides a literal breath of fresh air. On rare occasions, even Walsh residents bunker down to study or watch a movie peacefully with their suite. And, perhaps most miraculously of all, I’ve found a face I feel comfortable associating with UGBC, and my expectations of a dynamic and mobile student government are lining up with this semester’s reality.

Change is good, and applied psych and human development major, junior Cassidy Gallegos, couldn’t agree more. Gallegos’s name may not be dormhold yet, but it should be ringing bells. I chatted with her early this September about mental health on campus and what she--with the help of students from all areas--was doing to change it.

In our first interview, Gallegos told me about some exciting dreams: bringing Kevin Breel to campus, hosting the What I Be campaign, launching a mental health website and bringing more outlets to students seeking to address mental health topics on campus.

Amanda Ikard / Gavel media

Amanda Ikard / Gavel Media

A semester later, and these dreams are approaching reality. UGBC’s Be Conscious campaign on mental health is stronger than ever, complete with events on campus and a running website that serves as the center for all things mental health at BC. The Be Conscious blog features various articles from students talking about their experiences, reposts from The Gavel’s Authentic Eagles series, a tab to view all upcoming mental health related events, and links to support and resources.

Coming soon, Gallegos tells me, is BC Chats—a program for students to engage in honest dialogue and seek peer mentorship. Conversation leaders have been trained and selected from the student body, and launching later this semester, they will be accessible to the rest of BC as conversation partners to listen and share experiences. Gallegos explains,

 "The program itself is a way for us, as students, to do something for the huge demand that University Counseling has for help. BC Chats is made to encourage honest dialogue between students on campus and serve as a resource for someone who is stressed and wants to be heard, or is struggling to find an identity at BC. Leaders will be able to touch on all those topics and really create a mentorship relationship. It’s great for people looking for someone who can relate to them, or just someone to be supportive and hear them out. BC Chats won’t be a substitution for University Counseling, that’s a point I really want to emphasize. The conversation leaders are not trained for providing professional help, but they are trained in the basics for how to listen and respond, and how to react if someone does need professional help. Really BC Chats is a stepping stone for students that can lead to UCS; a way for them to start learning how to have honest and authentic conversations about topics that every single person can connect to in some way."

Photo courtesy of UGBC's Be Conscious / Facebook

Photo courtesy of UGBC's Be Conscious / Facebook

The best part of all this? BC Chats was student-inspired. Last semester, Gallegos and the Be Conscious team hosted a mental health summit to see what students wanted to see happen on campus to address mental health. Michael Granatelli, A&S ’15, presented the idea for BC Chats then and has been spearheading the project since. Though the Conversation Leaders are selected, for people looking to get involved for the next round of leader applications, Granatelli is the primary contact.

One on one conversations are not the only new addition to the Be Conscious programming this semester. Gallegos is working on creating mental health panel discussions specifically regarding the AHANA community to focus on the intersection between identifying as a member of AHANA and mental health. She similarly would love to create a panel for the LBGTQ community. When I asked why these communities specifically, Gallegos passionately told me,

“We have been talking about panels like these since the beginning of the year. People in the AHANA community and in ALC have expressed interest in doing something for their community specifically; a lot of people representing their stories may not represent the community. We want to highlight that everyone has an individual experience but there is also a connecting idea that you know what it means to go through a hard time, you know what it means to struggle, and you realize that hey, you’re a part of this community, too. Maybe you have a different experience because of how you identify, or how you experience things, but we still want to shed light on issues that haven’t been brought to attention.”

Photo courtesy of Twloha BC UChapter / Facebook

Photo courtesy of Twloha BC UChapter / Facebook

It sounds like another dream is approaching reality. Gallegos lights up as she informs me that Kevin Breel is also soon to be on campus--next Wednesday, February 4, in fact. To Write Love on Her Arms BC (TWLOHA-BC) has successfully arranged to have Breel come to Robsham where he will talk about his own experience struggling with mental illness.

At only 20 years old, Breel is a writer, a standup comic and a mental health activist. He did a TED talk, “Confessions of a Depressed Comic” that generated millions of views in only a few short weeks.

TWLOHA-BC, Gallegos tells me, hopes that because of Breel being the same age as most students on campus and being an overall really great guy, his talk will leave an impact and help BC students feel less alone and more inclined to talk about mental illness, breaking the stigma.

If the wildly popular What I Be project from last semester is any indication of the success of Be Conscious events to come, then Breel’s talk is sure to be one not to miss.

Also lined up on Gallegos’s list are mental health/self care workshops to teach students coping mechanisms for stress, and how to give yourself a break and stay healthy despite all that BC students balance. After What I Be turned out to be such “a huge success,” Gallegos can’t wait to get this semester going.

What I Be comes up as a project that has really impacted students. The students really appreciate vulnerability, and it’s not something expressed often enough, or ever, really, but What I Be highlighted it. We were able to use social media, and really spread the project to everyone—friends, family, people all over campus. I think it really did show that people care, and students are willing and want to be honest and vulnerable; they just need to be given the right avenue for it, one that will welcome them with open arms and that they know they wont be turned away from. BC is beginning to open up and embrace one another, we are finally talking about issues that need to be talked about.”

Photo courtesy of Steve Rosenfield Photography -What I Be Project / Facebook

Photo courtesy of Steve Rosenfield Photography -What I Be Project / Facebook

With conversation starters like Gallegos at the forefront, it’s hard to imagine campus will be quieting down anytime soon. After witnessing these past two semesters take shape, it seems safe to say that Be Conscious is, indeed, holding true to its name.

 

 

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