A Message From President Loren J. Blanchard: Mental Health Awareness Month
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to remember that our emotional, psychological, and social well-being are essential to our overall health and productivity. In this letter, I highlight some of the important mental health support and resources available to members of our University of Houston-Downtown community.
Through our Student Counseling Services, recurring sessions are available to all students. To maximize accessibility, actively enrolled students may schedule virtual or in-person counseling appointments at no cost. Setting an appointment is easy, using our online intake form.
Services are also available to employees through our Employee Assistance Program. All benefits-eligible faculty and staff have access to short-term counseling and referrals to community resources. Because daily stress and major life events may negatively impact mental health, options available to employees include work-life services such as legal assistance, financial guidance, child and elder care referrals, and alternative modes of support to promote a happier, healthier, more balanced life. Employees also have options for seeking mental health care through HealthSelect of Texas plans.
The provision of mental health services to students, faculty, and staff mitigates issues, habits, and thought patterns that when left untreated could result in suicidal ideation. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, an average of 130 people die by suicide every day. In recognition of this crisis, UHD is now home to the second Josh’s Bench for Suicide Awareness in the state of Texas. The bright yellow bench, branded with contact information for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, is located on the Bayou Greensway near the College of Sciences and Technology Building.
Mental health struggles are non-discriminatory, affecting individuals of all ages and walks of life, on and off our campus. We are, therefore, vigilant in our efforts to de-stigmatize mental illness, increase access to care, and support ongoing learning. I am proud of the educational opportunities offered to members of our UHD community. In March, our Office of Disability Services partnered with the Houston Branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness to offer a Mental Health Series. Participants learned the signs, symptoms, and daily experiences of those living with mental illnesses. Throughout the spring semester, our Counseling Services have provided Mental Health First Aid Workshops to train faculty and staff on how to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental health crisis.
As an additional approach to mental health care, UHD offers GatorSUPPORT Groups. Support groups provide a path to increased self-awareness, engaged connection, and improved coping skills. All groups are confidential and free. One such group, Gators in Recovery, offers support to those struggling with addictive behaviors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that from 1999 to 2019, more than 840,000 people died from drug overdoses, revealing substance use disorder as an alarming concern that we simply cannot ignore.
It is important to note that mental illness and poor mental health are not synonymous. While students experiencing decreased mental health quality may benefit from a combination of therapy and lifestyle changes, students with mental illness often need the addition of medication and course accommodations. I encourage students with documented mental illness to reach out to their medical doctor, our Office of Disability Services, and Student Counseling Services for the most holistic approach to improving mental well-being and maximizing success. Students without a medical doctor should reach out to our Student Health Services for a referral.
Remaining healthy, engaging in regular exercise, and pulling away from daily stress to relax are as important to mental health as having access to quality counseling and care. Our Wellness & Success Center provides access to recreational space, an indoor running track, massage therapy, personal training, weight and cardio training, and healthy cooking classes. All enrolled students have full access to the Center, making it a readily accessible option for self-care and necessary social time with classmates and colleagues.
I would be remiss not to mention the role of basic needs insecurities, such as financial strain, lack of food, or inadequate housing in elevating stress levels. Uncontrolled stress has a direct impact on mental health, which is why UHD is committed to ameliorating stressful conditions for students with basic insecurities. To that end, our new Basic Needs Center offers supports such as financial assistance, a no-payment food market, and low-cost access to transportation.
I would like to thank Ms. Lynette Cook-Francis, Interim Vice President of Student Success and Student Life, for leading us through the development of UHD’s Center for Basic Needs. I also extend my heartfelt appreciation to Ms. Naomi Berger-Perez, UHD Director of Counseling Services, and Dr. Hope Pamplin, Director of Disability Services, for their roles in expanding counseling services and mental health education on our campus.
As we near the end of the spring 2023 semester, remember to slow down for self-care and reach out to a counselor if you are experiencing increased anxiety, depression, anger, or uncontrolled negative thoughts. You are not alone. We are a community with a shared goal for mental well-being, positive energy, resilience, and hope. Together, we can face and overcome even the most complex challenges.
Loren J. Blanchard, Ph.D.
President, University of Houston-Downtown