Working to encourage students to practice mental health, especially concerning academic stress caused by upcoming final exams, U!Learn, a subset of Oklahoma Christian University’s U!Shine organization, hosted the lecture, “Adventures in Grit” Nov. 4.
While over half of college students rate their mental health as below average or poor, according to the National Association of Mental Health, only seven percent of parents say their children are struggling with mental health. According to U!Shine founder Jennifer Winton, the contrast of these numbers exemplifies the need for conversations about these topics on college campuses, and she said she hopes her organization can accomplish this through U!Learn seminars.
President of Oklahoma Christian Academy Brandon Tatum and Assistant Professor of Psychology and Family Science Bobby Kern spoke at the lecture on Monday.
“This group of students has lived in a culture that has passionately promoted consumption as a driving narrative for their lives,” Tatum said. “Consumption is not inherently bad, but it can lead to unwarranted pressures and demands. These students also live in a culture with high anxiety, depression and feelings of loneliness.”
Tatum referenced the definition Angela Duckworth, a leading expert on the subject of grit, provides. She explains grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” The seminar focused on Generation Z and millennials still in college.
“Grit is not the remedy to the failing narrative of cultural consumption,” Tatum said. “It is, however, an important piece which must be fostered in young adults. As professionals, we should be helping these students identify their passions, give them tools to pursue these passions and create in them a spirit of doing the hard things to accomplish these passions. Grit can help our students turn from consumption and focus on contribution.”
Senior Psychology major Mary Jo Betancourt said she would describe her generation as being consumed by test scores and tangible, measurable variables of success. She said this leads to a consumer mentality with many graduates entering a career which they have no passion for the work, only the paycheck.
“This generation was raised to believe if our scores are good enough, we can achieve and do anything we want,” Betancourt said. “This is a lie, because then we miss the passion. We see a lot of people who lack passion, who do not enjoy their jobs. The grit concept encourages people to do what they are passionate about, whatever it is, which greatly decreases career burnout.”
Betancourt said she experiences test anxiety, but recently took the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) last month and has been applying to Ivy League universities for a psychopathology doctoral program and in hopes to become a trauma therapist. She said it is encouraging that many colleges are now applying the concept of grit to their selection process, which evens the playing field.
“It is easy to get discouraged when you do not do well on exams,” Betancourt said. “It really affects self-concept, which is value of self-worth. It can be a determining factor in how you perform in future exams and in life, but having long-term goals and passions allows you to stop for a moment and examine, ‘Okay. I may have gotten a 13/100 on an exam, but that does not mean I cannot become the person I want to be.’”
Winton said accepting failure is a part of life often overlooked. She said that, despite being humans who will fail often, that should not make one discouraged or timid, but rather use that as a catalyst for growth and opportunity.
U!Learn seminars teach the various forms mental health issues can take and how they can learn to deal with them. Winton said she is passionate about educating college students about mental health and the goal of U!Learn seminars are to, not only educate college students on the nuances of mental health, but also to foster open conversations about these topics.
“We just want it to be common to talk about these things,” Winton said. “We want people not to feel uncomfortable, afraid or embarrassed. When we have a language to put with something, it makes it easier to understand and have conversation.”
Winton said she wants to encourage students to come to the U!Learn seminars because everyone can benefit from them.
“Nobody is untouched by mental illness,” Winton said. “Even if you do not deal with it, most likely you can say you know someone who does. Being able to give the language and the information to the student who is struggling, will struggle someday or who has a friend, roommate or future spouse who is struggling, they can watch out for others who are showing signs.”
Seminars will resume in the spring, students can also be added to the Healthy Brain, Healthy Mind waitlist by email.