A new Oklahoma Christian University non-profit organization is raising awareness and providing programs to address the issue of mental illness among college students.
This semester, U!Shine is offering two free programs for students. The first is a seven-week seminar series called U!Learn that will address one mental health topic each week from a general perspective.
Jennifer Winton, Oklahoma Christian alumna and founder of U!Shine, said one of the topics that will be addressed throughout the seminars is resilience.
“We’re going to be talking a lot about resilience this year,” Winton said. “That’s the idea that we can’t avoid failure, we shouldn’t avoid failure. Failure is a healthy part of life, but the idea of building resilience is teaching all of us to fall gracefully and then how to bounce back stronger than you were before.”
Winton said another topic to be addressed is how to help friends who are struggling.
After doing a random survey among a group of students last year, Winton discovered that half the students in the room struggled with something personally, while the other half had someone in their life who was dealing with the same struggle.
“It was very apparent this is an issue on both sides,” Winton said. “One side needed support and help but their friends didn’t know how to help, and the other side said they struggled and don’t know what to say to their friends trying to help.”
Alongside resilience and helping struggling peers, other topics that will be addressed throughout the series include nutrition, exercise, depression, anxiety, spirituality and how each topic correlates with mental health.
The second program offered this semester is entitled Healthy Brain, Healthy Mind. According to Winton, this is an intensive program focused primarily on building resilience towards mental illnesses and struggles.
“We wanted to do a more general program because it’s important to touch on all these different topics,” Winton said. “But the more intensive one came from me wanting to offer some type of resilience training for the students each year.”
Healthy Brain, Healthy Mind is a five-week program offered in groups throughout the fall semester. Each group will complete the program and then another group will begin it.
Tina Winn, an Oklahoma Christian psychology professor and member of the Healthy Brain, Healthy Mind team, said this program provides students coping strategies for both the present and future.
“Most people will deal with these types of issues at some point in their life, whether at a mild level or at an extreme level,” Winn said. “It’s beneficial to know how to recognize it early on and be able to engage some things that would help them maybe not have to develop extreme symptoms and know how to help other people who are struggling.”
According to Winn, individuals struggle with issues such as stress and anxiety in today’s society than in previous years.
“I think we experience more stress that our body is not programmed to deal with,” Winn said. “We have to learn how to do that, how to think through that, how to keep ourselves calm, how to train and use that system to work for us and not against us.”
Senior Abby deSteiguer is also a member of the Healthy Brain, Healthy Mind team. deSteiguer said the program is applicable to college students because most students struggle with similar issues.
“I think every college student has anxiety and stress because college is stressful,” deSteiguer said. “Just making people aware that it is normal and that it is something a lot of people in this phase of life go through, and they’re not alone in that, is very important.”
deSteiguer said one of her hopes of the Healthy Brain, Healthy Mind program is to shine light on the truth as well as address the lies associated with mental illness.
“I think mental health is something that we don’t talk about as a culture,” deSteiguer said. “I think there are shifts towards making it more of a topic of conversation. Mental health issues are so stigmatized, and so hopefully through these programs that will be decreased and there will be changes on the campus, and then hopefully it will spread elsewhere.”
The U!Learn seminars are offered each week to all students, and refreshments are available at each seminar. However, the Healthy Brain, Healthy Mind program requires a reservation to ensure a spot to participate. Each program is Ethos approved.