A nascent student group at William Jewell College is aiming to spread awareness about mental health on campus. This organization, called Students for Mental Health (SMH), has an executive board comprised of Cara Ellman, senior music performance major, as president; Jonathan Daniel, senior Oxbridge: Music and philosophy major, as vice president and social media manager; Alex May, sophomore music education major, as treasurer and Grace Urquhart, sophomore psychological science and theatre major, as founding secretary.
One of SMH’s primary goals is to work to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and mental illness using methods shaped specifically for the nuances of Jewell’s campus.
“There isn’t another student organization on campus solely dedicated to spreading awareness of mental health. While we have the Office of Counseling Services [OCS], there needs to be a student foundation committed to being advocates in order to further the destigmatization surrounding mental health and mental illness,” Urquhart said.
Though the group is moderated by OCS representative Dr. Tricia Hager and plans to work closely with OCS for some student programming, the group defines themselves as being independent from College-sponsored counseling services.
A significant motivating factor in creating this peer-based organization for mental health awareness was to create a more approachable and comfortable space for students so that they could feel more inclined to explore topics concerning mental health.
“Students are much more likely to open up to other students struggling with the same issues than to make an appointment for therapy on their own,” Urquhart said. “Through this organization, we can encourage other students who may be struggling to reach out and use their resources like OCS.”
Since Jewell’s campus is teeming with high-achieving students, part of SMH’s mission is to create a more visible outlet for these students to take a step back and consider whether their academic habits are compatible with a mentally healthy lifestyle.
“Those types of students tend to neglect their mental health in order to succeed, ourselves included. College students are also in a new environment experiencing a range of new emotions which can be overwhelming. College students need support in terms of mental health and self-care,” Urquhart said.
The founding members are passionate about reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness and serving as a conduit for struggling students to gain access to resources that can assist them.
Urquhart, in particular, has had a keen interest in psychology and supporting individuals with mental illness since junior high school. With her study of psychological science and theatre, she aspires to eventually get Master’s degrees in counseling psychology and drama therapy.
Similarly, Daniel is passionate about using his musical talents to advocate causes that are important to him and to express unique perspectives about important issues. Inspired by his own and close friends’ struggles with matters concerning mental health, Daniel has a vested interest in breaking down the stigma of mental illness, advocating self-care and helping to facilitate a stronger culture regarding mental wellness within the campus community.
As a group, the executive board is working hard to plan events for the remaining weeks of the semester. One event in the works – scheduled for May 8 at Jewell Time – is a mixer intended to draw in interested members and to allow them to converse with the executive board.
Urquhart shared some other plans SMH hopes to see through by the end of the semester.
“We are also joining Dr. Hager with OCS, Pharamond with Academic Achievement, and Missy Henry with Disability Services in May during their Fuel up for Finals event where we will be helping assemble Distress Tolerance kits,” Urquhart said. “We are planning another event that involves a guest speaker who is a therapist focusing on trauma and shame and how to process those healthily.”