GCU to wrap its arms around mental health awareness at ‘Embrace’ week
By Jeannette Cruz
GCU News Bureau
Like most college students, Cody Dumas arrived at Grand Canyon University eager to take on a new experience. But as college life, family life and work sunk in, so did stress. By his junior year, Dumas was having trouble sleeping.
Although hesitant to get on-site help because of his negative perception of counseling, his experience eventually contributed to a new initiative on campus to reduce the stigma of mental illness.
“We all have issues that we are facing,” said Dumas, president of Associated Students of GCU, the University’s student government. “I have never struggled with depression or major anxiety, but it was identified that I wasn’t sleeping due to stress that I had been building up in my life from being a student and growing up. At the time, I was really against seeing a counselor mainly because of the stigma that revolves around it — things like seeing a counselor means there’s something ‘wrong’ with you.”
Dumas’ experience inspired him and ASGCU to organize “Embrace,” a week of awareness and understanding of mental health issues. The activities begin today and are open to students and staff.
“When I realized that I was struggling with something as small as a sleeping disorder, I began to think about what other students with deeper issues could be facing when they went back to their dorm rooms or homes at night,” Dumas said.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately one in five adults in the U.S. experience mental illness in any given year. Mood disorders, including major depression, dysthymic disorder and bipolar disorder, are the third most common causes of hospitalization, according to NAMI. Three of four people with a mental illness report that they have experienced stigma— a mark of disgrace that sets a person apart.
During Embrace week, there will be an encouragement wall from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday along the Promenade near Building 16. Students may write notes of encouragement for other students, and there will be resources and handouts. Dr. Deb Wade, vice president of counseling and psychological services will speak from 5:30-6:30 p.m. today at the Colangelo College of Business Lecture Hall about the impact of stress on academic success. Discussions led by the campus counseling center, a movie and other activities have been designed to promote mental health awareness. Embrace week will close with a 5k run Saturday. Students can sign up here.
In addition to mental health awareness, ASGCU this week is promoting the Lopes Support Network, a new peer-to-peer led program started by the University of Michigan to help ensure students’ well-being. It is scheduled to launch in mid-February. Information tables will be accepting sign-ups for volunteers interested in leading the group. The goal is to get at least 30 volunteers.
“There are a lot of great benefits from this program because we find a lot of students open up with peers before seeking full-time professional help. So this would be great first step for students,” Dumas said. “Another benefit is that we will be training volunteers to gauge certain situations with students and help them seek resources available on campus.”
GCU supports students through free confidential and professional counseling services and wellness resources via its Spiritual Life department. Students also are welcome to confide in their life leader or resident assistant, he said.
Dumas hopes Embrace week and the Lopes Support Network will encourage others to seek help.
“As a Christian community I think mental health is something that isn’t talked about enough because there is this view that if a person is struggling then maybe their relationship isn’t right with the Lord, which isn’t the case at all,” Dumas said. “The goal of both Embrace week and the Lopes Support Network is to let students know that they are coming into a community where it is OK to talk about things revolving around mental health and coping with those issues.”
Other activities include (click here for a PDF):
Tuesday: ASGCU’s Diversity Awareness team will be hosting an array of cultural stress relievers for students from 5:30-8 p.m. at Thunderground.
Wednesday: “Life is Difficult — How to Navigate the Ups and Downs,” a discussion about understanding the human journey and seeing clearly through the challenging seasons of life, 11:15a.m.-12:15 p.m. in Howerton Hall in the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions. “Significance, Self-Worth and Intrinsic Value: Identity in the College Experience,” a discussion on significance, self-worth and intrinsic value, 5-6 p.m. in the Colangelo College of Business Lecture Hall. The film, “Inside Out,” will follow at 8 p.m. on the Quad.
Thursday: Send a postcard to a friend or family member. ASGCU is providing free GCU postcards and postage between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at The Grove.
Friday: Stomp out mental illness stigma with a balloon. Students are encouraged to write on balloons something they have struggled with and pop it between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. along the Building 16 Promenade. The Canyon Counselors Club will host a seminar on the dangers and side effects of substance abuse from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. in Building 57 (College of Science, Engineering and Technology), Room 133.
Saturday: “Embrace 5k Run,” 8:30-9:30 a.m. at the Student Union Promenade.
Contact Jeannette Cruz at (602) 639-6631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.