Student Government Association Deputy Chief of Staff Antione Fields said mental health is a big concern, not just for the UCF campus, but across the country.
Mental health is a rising topic of conversation at UCF. According to the Counseling and Psychological Services at UCF, 5,473 students were seen in the 2017-2018 school year, showing a 4.3 percent increase from the year prior.
Fields said as the numbers increase, SGA is attempting to raise awareness and provide resources to students in an effort to remove shame from mental illness.
“To be able to take part in something that can destigmatize [mental health] and provide those resources is a great thing to be a part of,” he said. “There’s always room for improvement and we will always do as much as we can to make this a big concern since that’s something that’s been vocalized a lot by students.”
SGA has organized events aimed at recognizing mental health on campus.
The events include a potential partnered photo series with the Campus Activities Board to showcase students, faculty and staff who have dealt with mental health concerns and a Safe Knight Week where students learn about self-care, violence prevention and emergency preparedness and a walk for sexual assault awareness.
“A lot of times, when students go through something traumatic, like being sexually assaulted, their mental health takes a sharp turn because of it,” Fields said. “These resources let students know that we are here to support you in whatever ways that you need.”
One of the things SGA has done to bring awareness to mental health is advertise Project375, an organization started by NFL receiver Brandon Marshall aimed at promoting awareness of mental health. SGA also supports the College of Community Innovation and Education’s Mental Health First Aid Training.
In the minute-long clip, SGA President Josh Boloña talks about the importance of advocating for mental health and urges students to sign up for the seminars.
"We need you to help build a stronger, more resilient UCF community," Boloña said in the video.
Fields said that supporting these events is important to SGA and they make it a priority to find events on campus.
“SGA is cognitive of these issues and we are here to advocate and support, but [we want] to provide more promotion to events like this,” Fields said. “That requires us to make sure that we market it and support the other departments who put their blood, sweat and tears into providing these events and resources.”
The SGA-sponsored seminars are led by Project375 certified mental health instructors. Instructors Lynn Tortorella and Idalia Barlow said their focus is on teaching participants how to deal with youth in crisis and knowing the signs and symptoms.
Tortorella said she is happy to have SGA's support and hopes that their stance on mental health advocacy will combine with the other mental health clubs on campus.
“UCF, in a general sense, has been very mental health positive in trying to erase stigma,” Tortorella said. “So, having SGA behind it is spreading the word on it and it's great.”
There were a total of 14 participants at the Feb. 9 seminar, including 22-year-old graduate student, Kaleb Thompson. Thompson said he took the seminar to gain more insight on how to work with youth in crisis after mainly working with adults.
Now going for his master's degree in mental health counseling, he said he applauds SGA for advocating for mental health awareness and recognizing that it is a need.
“I think that that’s amazing,” Thompson said. “I did my undergrad here at UCF, so I have been around for a bit. I don’t remember that happening before or I never saw it, so I think it’s really cool that they are also passionate about it.”
The push to be more mental health positive was a campaign promise from SGA President Josh Boloña and Vice President Jad Shalhoub. Shalhoub said that keeping student's voices in front of everyone else's is important to their cause.
"There’s a lot that’s going on, there’s a lot of different things that Josh [Boloña] and I have to keep our heads on top of as far as information and advocacy for students," Shalhoub said. "The importance of mental health, the struggles of a student on a daily basis — and that takes so many different forms."
Fields said SGA knows that mental health issues is not an easy topic to talk about, but having these events to educate and create secure spaces will help students in the long run.
Fields also reminds students to reach out to those we care about and to always be aware of how your friends are doing. He said everyone goes through things they may not want to talk about, so it is best to provide an open and safe space for conversation for students.
“I’d much rather get a phone call at 3 o’clock in the morning from a friend who is going through a tough time than to get a phone call at 3 o’clock in the morning saying that my friend isn’t here anymore," Fields said.
Fields said he can only speak for himself when it comes to what students should do when they are going through mental health crisis. However, he said he does know that everyone in SGA wouldn’t hesitate to listen to a student, which is why they push for these resources to be available.
“Trust in your friends and your family and beyond that, your UCF family,” Fields said. “Just know that there are always resources for you and that there are people here that love you and will support you and never be afraid to reach out and vocalize anything you are going through.”