Psychology in Action: Students raise awareness for mental health

Julie Herrmann/Sun Star Reporter
April 30, 2013

UAF students from the Psychology Department’s Psychology in Action class are raising awareness about mental health issues.

At the beginning of the semester, students in the class were split into four groups of four or five and brainstormed ideas of projects to work on.

The PostSecret group’s project is based on the global community art project in which people mail postcards containing a secret they’ve never told anyone.  These secrets are then posted on a blog by the project creator, Frank Warren.

The UAF PostSecret group started a similar project limiting it to Fairbanks.  “Basically, the point of it is to break down the walls of isolationism and get people to talk,” said Kara Perkins, a senior Psychology student and PostSecret group member.  The group left boxes on campus and around town and encouraged people to drop a postcard with their secret written on it in the box.  The postcards will be on display in the Wood Center from April 29 through May 3.  “It makes you realize, ‘I’m not the only one who has something dark in my life,'” Perkins said.

The group will also have the secrets displayed at a First Friday event at the River City Cafe on May 3 from 6 to 9.  Counselors, resources and hotlines will be available during the event at the cafe for anyone who needs help.  “I think the best way it’ll help is to tell them it’s OK to admit that things aren’t perfect because that’s human,” Perkins said.

In the past few weeks, the group has been confused with the UAF Confessions Facebook page.  “The point is not to encourage free speech.  There’s a difference between telling a secret or feeling from endorsing hate toward a specific group.  We don’t want negativity,” Perkins said.

The AMCAN (Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, Navy), group’s project is focused on helping veterans.  The group has gathered a list of resources aimed at helping soldiers transition from soldier to student.  Organizations such as the Student Health and Counseling Center, the Psychology Department’s counseling center on the second floor of Gruening and the Student Veterans Association are included on the list.

“Basically, we want to gather this information into a pamphlet that we can hand to the soldiers to give them a little more knowledge about what’s out there for them,” said Jess Hampton, a sophomore Psychology student and AMCAN group member, “We want to help our specific part of the community by enlightening them, making sure that they have all the information, that they have every possible chance to succeed.”

The Let’s Talk group is working to de-stigmatize mental health through humor and social media.  “We noticed that a lot of the ads and commercials concerning mental health are very dark and depressing.  We didn’t think that was the right direction to go when talking about mental health,” said Roger Thomas, an English student with a minor in Psychology and Let’s Talk group member.  His group believes that even just learning about mental health should make people happy, not bring them down.  They’ve created memes, YouTube videos and a Facebook page.

Thomas’ group wants to encourage people to talk to their friends, family and co-workers about what they’re struggling with.  A lot of people don’t really want to talk to a professional and a lot of people don’t even need one, they just need to talk, Thomas said.  “They see talking about anything that’s bugging them, the problems weighing them down.  They see it in a comical form and laugh and think ‘maybe it’s not so bad.'”

The Mighty Outreachers group’s project focuses on educating the community about the resources that are available in the area of mental health.  At the beginning of the semester, the class was asked what resources were available.  “A couple people came up with a couple ideas but most of us were like ‘that’s a really good question,'” said Tom Cox, a junior psychology student and Mighty Outreachers group member.

The class was also asked if they knew that, among other things, the Student Health and Counseling Center fee paid by every student taking at least nine credits covers six sessions of counseling.  “For most of us, no one knew that.  We said, ‘wow, that would have helped a while ago,'” Cox said, “For us, it was kind of shocking how little people knew about what resources were available at their disposal.”

His group has created a Facebook page and a website that lists resources available in the Fairbanks community.  They created fliers with tear-off strips directing people to the website.  “Putting a lot of it online made it accessible at people’s leisure,” Cox said.

The four groups will have a table in the Wood Center on Thursday, May 2 from 1 to 2 p.m.   There, they will have their pamphlets, videos, fliers and postcards.  They will also be available to talk to students and direct them to help.

Schichnes is proud of what her students have done.  She said that she directed them and gave them creative license and they have run with it.  “It’s a new class, I didn’t know how it would go.  This group has been terrific,” Schichnes said.

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