Mental Health: Let's talk

By The Beacon | April 27, 2015 1:43pm

Guest commentary by Will Meek and Anthony Paz on behalf of the University Health Center and Campus Ministry |

Last week, Joe Shorma and Jesse Dunn courageously asked to have a conversation about suicide with their letter entitled “We need to talk.”  As University staff members, we are very encouraged by this energy.  We’re here to say: “Yes, let’s talk”.

Joe and Jesse pointed out, and rightly so, that death from mental illness in the form of suicide is a preventable outcome. They call our attention to the fact that mental illness and depression are real, and that these realities affect many in our community.

The first step toward preventing suicide is to start talking. If you are having suicidal thoughts, tell someone. If you are wondering about whether a friend or family member is thinking about this, ask them.

Some warning signs for a person that may be having a mental health issue that includes suicide are increased risk-taking and impulsive behaviors, making ominous statements about the future, giving away important possessions, making suicidal statements, becoming more socially withdrawn and increased drug and alcohol use. When listening, be compassionate and understanding.

Sometimes, the thought of talking about suicide can be uncomfortable.  We may not want anyone to know. But, ignoring, hiding or minimizing the issue, or being afraid to ask about it, makes us feel isolated and alone. When we talk about it, we can become connected, safe and hopeful.

The next step toward preventing suicide is getting help – and there are a wide range of people at UP who can help.

For treatment of a variety of mental health and life issues, including thoughts about suicide, the counseling staff members at the Health Center are here for you. Services are free and confidential, and are readily accessible. There are three hours each day dedicated to new and urgent appointments.

If you tell the Health Center that these times do not work for your schedule, counselors will work to find a way to see you as soon as possible. And, if you need urgent help and the Health Center is closed, talk to residence hall staff, call Public Safety, or call the call the Multnomah County Crisis Line at 503-988-4888.

And, there are many other resources on campus that can help too.

Talk to campus ministers, residence hall staff (RAs, HDs, AHDs), pastoral residents, faculty, coaches and athletic trainers, academic advisors, wellness promotion staff, or staff who work in the Office for Students With Disabilities, the Freshman Resource Center, International Student Services, the Career Center, Confidential Group, or Public Safety. There are so many at UP who are ready to be a part of this conversation.

For those preferring to seek off-campus help, staff at the Health Center can help you find counseling providers in the Portland community.

As a Catholic and Holy Cross university, we care not only for the education of the mind, but also of the heart. In the midst of suffering, we want to talk, knowing that this burden is easier to bear when we carry it together.

And, we believe deeply in the mystery of the Cross: That our God is with us in the midst of our suffering.

Especially as we prepare to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus this weekend, we hope in the triumph of light over darkness, confident that the Resurrection promises our own rising, even when the light seems beyond us.

Those of us who work with students at UP love accompanying students on their journeys, wherever these may lead, even when uncomfortable.

We want to work with you to make this a healthy campus – and a place where everyone is safe.

Right now, this means taking time to join together as a community to keep this conversation going. At 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 16 in the basement of Fields and Schoenfeldt Halls, all members of the University community are invited to attend an open forum to discuss mental health at UP. Here we hope to hear from you: What you need and what we can do as a community to address these needs.

Please join us. Please invite your friends to join us.

We want to keep this conversation going into the fall semester and beyond.

Together, we can continue to make UP a caring, connected, and healthy community. Together, we can believe that light will win over darkness.