Friday, October 6, 2023
Dedicated students, distinguished colleagues and dear friends,
On the occasion of the upcoming World Mental Health Day on Tuesday, Oct. 10, I reflect on my own journey. I have no recollection of a time when I did not feel vulnerable to emotional ups and downs, regardless of my station in life. The truth is that no one is immune from the emotional roller coaster from time to time. The truth also is that, regardless of our feelings at the moment, our feelings are transient and never final.
I remember periods in my early college years when I could not see the light at the end of the tunnel of anxiety or episodes of depression. Then, magically, there would be light! “What was I worried about so much?” I would ask myself once the cloud was lifted. After a couple of cycles of darkness and light, I remember noticing that my thoughts were never final and that I shouldn’t always believe everything that I think! Then I gained the courage to seek help when I was sensing the onset of potentially crippling thoughts. I learned then, even decades ago when I was a student, that my alma mater LSU had tools to help me identify when worrying is about to turn into a debilitating disorder. I realized that the mental health counselors were there for me and did not judge me. I became comfortable to seek help.
To our students, I say if you feel anxious or overwhelmed, please know that you are not alone. Just as you won’t hesitate to seek help when in pain physically, you should seek help when distressed emotionally. Further, encourage your friends to seek help if you sense that they might be worrying excessively. Thanks to our professional counselors and staff, you have at your disposal an amazing array of support services in all modalities. I encourage you to sense the onset of any level of anxiety and seek help and, just as importantly, let us know if you sense a friend is in need of help.
To our faculty and staff I say we are all susceptible and I encourage you to explore our available services because they are for faculty and staff as well.
Needless to say, in times of distress we need to move from withdrawal and isolation to sharing our emotions and harvesting our connections. This year’s theme at S&T is based on research that illuminates the value of social connections for college students across multiple relationships. I heartily encourage all students at S&T to attend the fall-themed “We-Autumn Get-Together” event featuring free games, activities and dinner.
We must move from isolation to inclusion, we must open up with candor, share our feelings, trust the support professionals and seek help. We must rise above fear, find the courage to share, and, as a result, experience health and hope through catharsis and connection. We must also be alert, aware and ready to help a friend who might not feel comfortable to seek help or might need a nudge to reach out for assistance. Often, in helping and rescuing others, we save ourselves. Over 400 S&T students, faculty, and staff have completed Well-Being Ambassador Training to develop the skills needed to recognize, intervene, and effectively respond to those who are in distress or need support. This training will be offered again next Thursday for interested students.
It is important to realize, of course, that most of us are not professionals in providing mental health advice and must leave the treatment to professionals. But being aware and alert of others and their state of mind by listening, learning and sensing will help all of us travel further down our journey, successfully and safely.
In the end, I know this: no matter how deep and under we feel today, our thoughts will be different tomorrow, the next day, or the next week. We will do ourselves a great service to realize that our feelings are transient, and in times of need, we must harvest connections, share our emotions and muster the courage to seek help if we are to triumph over our moments of despair.
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