Mental health experts speak on available resources

The end of the year brings many fun activities to local communities that lift people’s spirits and draw friends and families closer together. However, the fall and first few winter months can also be the hardest for those living with depression and suicidal thoughts to get through.

Most people can agree that maintaining a high level of mental health is important, but not everyone has the same position on how counseling and treatment facilities are funded or promoted. Some experts say the current state is just fine, while others claim programs and facilities are severely underfunded.

“I would say with mental illness and mental health, nationwide, we are sorely lacking in services for people with mental illnesses,” said Robin McAleese, Mary Walker Health Center outreach coordinator.

McAleese, an Oswego State graduate and licensed mental health counselor, believes there should be far more access to counselors like herself, not just in New York, but nationwide. As a LMHC, McAleese is not allowed, by New York state law, to diagnose the clients she sees on a regular basis. Only specific clinical social workers are allowed to diagnose patients with depression and other mental conditions.

“Our job is more counseling than therapy. If we have a student that goes beyond what we call our ‘scope of services’ and needs greater, long-term, more frequent help, we refer them to somebody off campus,” McAleese said.

Shelly Sloan, treasurer of the Oswego State chapter of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, concurs with McAleese in that there is not enough funding going into mental health facilities. Sloan said there should be greater access for all students and citizens to counselors and other mental health specialists. Additionally, she said that things like advertising for self-confidence and promoting more anti-bullying campaigns in public schools should be initiated.

Sloan’s other efforts in mental health promotion, specifically suicide awareness and prevention, have been in SAVE’s Stride to Save Lives event, held every year since 2011 on the Oswego State campus. The event is a 5K run/walk through campus grounds with live music and raffles that spreads SAVE’s message through members of the community. Sloan is also a health promotion coordinator at the Lifestyles Center in Mary Walker Health Center, the group known for Toilet Talk, peer educators and the red wagon-wielding outreach staff.

Her experience in each of these organizations has helped her tremendously in focusing not just her own, but the entire mental health office’s mission statement and their motives to promote better advertisement of the services Oswego State students are paying for.

“You don’t know when it might happen to you or someone you care about,” Sloan said. “People are really good at hiding the pain they’re going through, and so you have no idea when it might happen or when you might find yourself in that situation.”

Mental health awareness is promoted by the campus health office and in the residential buildings. Funnelle Residence Hall Director Butch Hallmark said the two training sessions held per year for new and returning resident assistants of every building help inform RAs about mental health in general, what to do in cases of sudden student breakdowns/crises and the services the health center offers for referral.

Additionally, each residential building is required to host at least two programs each semester regarding mental health, and each RHD is required to have open office hours for students to come in and chat – something Hallmark takes very seriously.

“It’s the most important. That’s one reason why they give me an apartment here,” Hallmark said. “Those office hours are specifically designed for students to come in and talk about their roommate issues or ‘how do I change buildings’ or mental health issues.”

In regard to the funding of mental health clinics, Hallmark said he believes they do get appropriate funding. Mary Walker Health Center recently completed a deal with a licensed psychiatrist to have them on campus at least once a week for students to meet with. Psychiatrists can diagnose patients and prescribe them with medicine to treat symptoms of depression and other mental illnesses, and access to them was provided by the center’s funding.

Most importantly, Hallmark understands how vital it is for those who are suffering to get help and for those who are not to still make use of the residential programs that promote mental health, as it becomes useful when dealing with friends and family who may suffer.

“I think it’s good for people, no matter if they have mental health issues or they know someone, to go to these programs so that everybody gets some kind of background knowledge on this,” Hallmark said.

Wherever experts may stand on the methods of promotion and funding, mental health awareness is always a topic of conversation on college campuses.

Jordan DeLucia | The Oswegonian

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