Students host mental health panel


Photo by: Shelby Clark

Madison Gerbig speaks next to Brianna Stone (left) and Summer Skelton (right) on a student-led panel. The panel talked about the importance of mental health Monday in Mitchell Auditorium.

Alexis Donner, Shelby Clark, and Casey Clark

Student-led panel speaks about mental health on campus.

Active Minds, a mental health student organization, and Pott College Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee hosted a student-led mental health panel Monday in Mitchell Auditorium. The event was live streamed on Zoom.

Students presented a conversation about mental health following the deaths of two university students. Jennifer Hammat, the dean of students, prompted the panel with questions.

Jennifer Hammat, dean of students, asked the student panel questions throughout the event Monday. (Photo by: Shelby Clark)

“When people think about mental health, they think it’s not that big of a deal,” said Brianna Stone, sophomore elementary education major and president of Active Minds. “Mental health is just as important as your physical health.”

The student speakers said people are not defined by their mental illness and spoke on their own mental health experiences. They provided resources emphasizing mental illness is like any other physical sickness and needs to be treated as such. 

Perci Hale, a senior theater major, said she was glad she attended the event. 

“I feel like we don’t talk about mental health enough…” Hale said. “So, seeing how brave they were in commenting on their experiences but also giving resources on how to help others was really empowering.” 

The panelists each shared their personal experiences with mental illness. Georgia Sites, biology and psychology major, said she was diagnosed with depression as freshman in high school. 

“When I start feeling myself sinking into a depressive episode,” Sites said. “I go in the notes of my phone, and I’ll write down reasons I’m happy I’m here.”

Panelists also shared they have felt guilt because they did not see the signs of suicide on some of their friends and family members. 

“I thought in my head, ‘I go through this, too. I should see it’,” Sites said. “It’s just one of those things where you have to recognize you’re not a therapist.” 

Madison Gerbig, a junior biology major, said she felt guilty as a young teenager when her stepfather died from suicide.  

“Through some therapy, I realized that it was almost impossible for me to know that he was going to do something like that,” Gerbig said. “I don’t even feel guilty anyone because I learned that it’s not my fault.” 

Summer Skelton, a junior biochemistry major, said the campus community recently mourned the loss of two university students who died from suicide.

“Talking to people who have experienced that loss with you was one of the best ways to get through it,” Skelton said. “Sharing memories of that person. Not keeping it under the rug.” 

The students said friends of people with mental illness can help their friends by checking in on them. 

Active Minds, a mental health student organization, and Pott College Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee hosted the student panel Monday. Each student on the panel shared personal experiences and advice with the live and virtual audience. (Photo by Shelby Clark )

Stone said she uses a conversation exercise called V.A.R. that allows her to remain helpful without being too outright. V.A.R. stands for validate, appreciate and refer. 

Referral seems to be the difficult part, Stone said. “That can sound like, ‘let me walk you to CAPS,’ or it can be, ‘what would help you the most right now?’”

The panel wrapped up by giving information on where to find resources benefitting mental health. The students mentioned counseling, hotlines and university faculty. 

Aaron Pryor, assistant director of Counseling and Psychological Services, spoke on CAPS and what they do for students. He said CAPS provides many counseling opportunities for students all of which are free. 

“If you are interested in the services mentioned earlier, the best way to get connected, we have an online form,” Pryor said. “You can also come into the office and let us know.”

Madison Gerbig said she was thankful for everyone who joined them Monday. “This was an eye opening experience for me, and I hope it was for everyone else.”