Forum aims to reduce mental health stigmas

by Elizabeth Kumru, UNMC public relations | April 13, 2018

Image with caption: Wayne State College students learned about mental health at a recent forum held on the Wayne State campus through the UNMC Rural Health Education Network.

Wayne State College students learned about mental health at a recent forum held on the Wayne State campus through the UNMC Rural Health Education Network.

Nearly 60 Wayne State College (WSC) students and faculty members participated in a mental health forum on March 28 that was geared to raise awareness and generate discussion around mental health.

It was the first of four forums presented by UNMC's Rural Health Education Network (RHEN), in cooperation with the Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska (BHECN) and the WSC student chapter of ActiveMinds. The forums are supported by a Teaching and Engagement Award from the Rural Futures Institute (RFI).

The College of Public Health's Sonja Tutsch, education/outreach program manager of RHEN, is principal investigator of the grant. She said the forums will help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, encourage people to seek help and provide meaningful and relevant solutions to address mental health difficulties experienced by college and university students.

"The growing burden of mental illness, emotional, and mental distress experienced among the population call for upstream, primary prevention," she said. In its most recent strategic planning update, the National Institute of Mental Health emphasized the need for community-based public health approaches with a wide reach.

Last November and December, more than 30 WSC students from 17 different majors developed curriculum content and a discussion guide that will be promoted to mental health student chapters at colleges and universities across the state. Eight students shared their mental health stories and presented narratives around the essential roles sleep, nutrition, physical activity, social and environmental factors play in assuring mental (brain) health.

"I envision an adaptive curriculum that can be implemented in a variety of community settings. The student's enthusiasm, support, and courage to share their mental health stories are commendable. We have been working diligently since last summer; it was truly an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach," Tutsch said.

Suicide is the leading cause of death among college and university students in the US and is the 11th leading cause of death in Nebraska. In 2014, 1 in 6 Nebraska adults reported a diagnosis of depression, and 1 in 12 reported mental distress.

The second forum is scheduled for this fall.

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