SUNY Geneseo Mental Health Town Hall March 1st 4-5:30pm in Newton 214, Spring 2018

Normalizing and Embedding Health-seeking on Campus

Hosted by Laura Swanson, Sam Cardamone, and the SUNY Geneseo Mental Health Task Force. Thanks to our panelists: Becca Berger (Staff Psychologist), robbie routenberg (Interim Chief Diversity Officer), Monica Schneider (Professor of Psychology), Nydia Constantine (Senior, Healthguard, ACE chair), Harrison Moses, (Senior, Presidential Scholar, Pathways Peer Advocate), Leslie Tetteh (Junior, Resident Assistant for Wellness)

The panelists at the SUNY Geneseo Mental Health Town Hall Engaged with Students and Each Other on Important Issues

How does your role on campus contribute to promoting a positive mental health climate?

The Health Guards create personalized programs for students to encourage wellness including stress management, exercise...My role in the Residence Hall is to talk about normalizing mental health. Geneseo can be a really private place sometimes, in terms of what you're dealing with....It's really important that mental health is thought about in the context of diversity, which shapes who we are and our access to mental health services...My more subtle roles include consulting with faculty, parents, staff and consulting with students who might be concerned about a friend...I believe the student is an expert in their health more than I am...As a faculty member, I try to approach every interaction with students as meaningful and positive; I personally feel professionally responsible for creating a safe space for students to thrive where they feel seen, supported, and respected. I may not have all the answers but I sure as heck will serve as an ally and connect you to resources...As a Pathways Peer Advocate, we try to create an environment where we can talk to our peers, make them feel safe and heard for as long as they need.

Mental Health, not just Mental Illness

let's think more about empowering students to thrive, not just succeed, through cultivating resilience, mentoring, and collaborative conversations

There's always room for improvement but people are showing up...our community has a strong, campus-wide commitment to improving mental health support and thinking creatively about new initiatives

One of the positives is that with Social Media, a lot of friends and celebrities are sharing and normalizing what they're going through...Lady Gaga, Keisha...are straightforward about what they're going through and recommending resources like the suicide helpline to tens of thousands of people. A negative is that it can prevent people from seeking actual, physical resources that are long-term, such as professional help, rather than short-term fixes. It depends on what you're using and how you're using Social Media; you could be given positive support and resources or you could be getting harmful advice.

Geneseo as a community would benefit from an initiative that encourages a cultural shift in which we shift Social Media interaction toward face-to-face engagement.

Language is so important. "that's insane," "the weather is so schizophrenic," "#depressed," might feel natural and ingrained but those words shape our perceptions and attitudes toward mental health. It is so important that we take the time to pause and think about our language. When we notice ourselves saying those words, catch ourselves, and say, "I don't want to say that again" and model that for other people. Also, find gentle ways to let others know when they say something stigmatizing or exclusive. It's not about blame or shame but rather that this language is so ingrained that of course we find ourselves saying it, but it's important that we acknowledge, "I don't think you mean to be hurtful, but have you thought about what you're saying and what that means?

If you're concerned about a student, a friend, ask. Use clear, and direct communication, "are you having thoughts about killing yourself?" Asking the question does not put the thought in their head.

Research suggests that one of the best ways to reduce suicide is to restrict access to lethal means.

What is Geneseo doing well and where is the room for improvement?

  • normalizing help seeking; I feel comfortable talking to professors about why today was a bad day. The change has slowly but definitely been happening
  • the "Let's Talk" Program; when I was a First-Year I was embarrassed to go see a counselor but this allowed me to see someone quickly
  • we could improve intersectionality; my culture can impact my mental health and my counselor now understands that
  • in one year, we doubled the size of our staff, which shows a dedication to improving mental health on campus by changing our model with triage and same-day walk-in crisis appointments
  • various campus initiatives: the mental health task force, the red folder initiative (an easy reference guide for faculty and staff, including ways to have conversations with students in distress), Kognito, a training software that helps people learn in 30 minutes how to positively intervene in mental health issues, an in-progress medial leave of absence policy that allows students to leave for mental health issues specifically and sets up retention programs for students' return, and an environmental scan that can help us identify high-risk places on campus for student suicide
  • students responding to other students: HealthGuard, Pathways, and other peer initatives
  • communicating with everyone about campus resources and events continues to be a challenge
We tend to be very reactive in this society about mental health but the best way to promote mental health is to be proactive

What do you recommend students do if mental health is taking a toll on their academics? What have you done as a faculty member to foster a supportive environment?

THE FIRST STEP: come to talk to our professors or the Dean of Students, Dr. Leonard Sancilio. You do not have to provide the details if you do not want to. All you need to say is that there's an alarm and you're in crisis. It's not all or nothing, just communicating that you're in crisis. By contacting Dr. Sancilio, it helps us connect the dots across experiences that we might not be understanding from our particular perspective. Also, it can help us stop the clock and reassess what support you need, what we can do, and how we can get you back on track.

THE SECOND STEP: get connected with the resources that you need to get back on track and start thriving. Whether it is counseling services or changing your personal circumstances, these are intimately linked. The personal, emotional and psychological stuff is important in relation to your academic work. You will need to work to address these issues from a number of perspectives, not just with your coursework.

LONG TERM: While we're working and addressing current issues, how can we learn to function in the current situation? How can we bring in support systems, faculty members, and others to replenish your resources. We need to learn how to put things into place so that you can function with fewer resources while you're addressing your problem, then you can start to connect and build connections. Who can pick you up in the morning on the way to class? Who can keep you on task? What responsibilities can you try and delegate and who do you have to provide that accountability and support?

I worry about the ways our talk about mental health promotes single stories and single identities
"College Healthy by the Numbers" provided by the Geneseo Mental Health Task Force

How Can Students Be Advocates for Mental Health?

Get Involved! There are student group such as Pathways that can help you help others. But also, become literate about the resources that are available and the ways in which you can reach out to others. Adding to literacy, know your limits. There is a reason that resources exist. There are places people can go and it might not be your position, or within your ability, to take the lead and help this person.


  1. If you're trying to help someone suffering with anxiety and depression while you, yourself, are struggling with similar challenges: you have to put your oxygen mask on before you can help others. That might mean setting boundaries, prioritizing self care, or being honest that, while you don't know what to do, you are there for support. Accessing resources and support together can be really helpful but it's okay to draw boundaries and you do not need to be each other's therapists.
  2. If you're seeking help for academic issues, coursework extensions, etc.: Your best option is to contact your professors. When you have that clock, consider how to shift the clock to help you but not shift it so much that it becomes overwhelming at the end by stockpiling the work. Also, please email our Dean of Students, Dr. Leonard Sancilio who can teach students to be their own best advocates during mental health challenges. When you're struggling, the temptation can be to want to make it all stop but it's important to make sure you can pull through, long-term as well.
  3. If you're a first-year student who is working to adjust, create new support groups, and perhaps find your professors intimidating or think Lauderdale isn't necessary: Check out the "Let's Talk" Program, which is offered every day on campus, including twice on Fridays, at various campus locations including Onondaga, the Library, and the Union. This is NOT a therapy appointment, although that could be an outcome of our meeting if you want, but an opportunity to check in. We also have a GOLD Workshop, "Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds," that is specific to adjustment, stress management, and empowering students. Also consider visiting our office to see Sophie, our therapy dog, because a lot of first-year students really miss their pets! Seek out resources from Student and Campus Life and your Residence Halls because there are programs there designed to support you that you might not know about!
  4. Is there any resource on campus to deal with addiction? We have student advocates through AOD to help students talk about goals and addiction issues. You can also visit Sarah Covelle in Lauderdale who specializes in addiction treatment. Sarah is also the mom of Sophie, our therapy dog, if you need an additional incentive to stop by.
  5. What avenues do students have to present their ideas for improving mental health? If you're interested in reaching out with comments or suggestions, email us at mhtf@geneseo.edu.
College students have a rare opportunity to brand themselves on social media...those are places that you can create a message about inclusive and destigmatizing language. Subtly promote your message and show people what is important to you without directly saying it. That is a creative and nuanced way to get that message out.

Try not to take it upon yourself to label things that other people are going through.

Continue the Conversation On-Campus, Online, or on Social Media
We hope you will not only use the resources but also share them with others

This project does not speak on behalf of the individuals cited, the Geneseo Mental Health Task Force, or the SUNY Geneseo administration nor should anything (even the quotes, which are partially an aesthetic choice) be taken as literal transcription of the events (live transcription is, at best, semi-accurate). For comments, question, or revision suggestions please contact the author, Lee Pierce, at piercel@geneseo.edu.

Created By
Lee Pierce

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