In an effort to raise awareness and support for mental health on college campuses, Oklahoma Christian University is continuing its partnership with the mental and emotional health program U!Shine.
According to research conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), more than 25 percent of college students have been diagnosed or treated by a professional for a mental health condition in the past year. To help combat these numbers, U!Shine serves as an on-campus resource available to both students with diagnosed mental health conditions and those struggling with general stress and anxiety.
Based in Edmond, U!Shine focuses on bringing mental health awareness, education and hope to college campuses in both the U.S. and through their branch in Vienna, Austria. Summer Lashley, a spiritual life coordinator at Oklahoma Christian and routine speaker for U!Shine, promotes their programs for all students to develop methods of healthy living.
“Mostly, U!Shine is designed to be a proactive organization,” Lashley said. “It isn’t a counseling organization, it’s a proactive organization to educate students about mental health. The goal is to bring awareness to our communities about mental health and to break down the stigma that surrounds mental illness.”
Through seminars and small group discussions, U!Shine provides students with practical tools to help them better their well-being. By partnering with various universities, Lashley said the holistic programs have help built up solid foundations and reputations on college campuses.
“The brand, U!Shine, is associated with this idea of mental health,” Lashley said. “When a student sees that, they are identifying with an organization that isn’t afraid to talk about hard things, who is encouraging students to be vulnerable and share their stories, and an organization willing to invest in students’ mental health without asking for anything in return.”
Sophomore Alysa Campos said she believes the mental stress many college students experience is due to a lack of prior education on how to take care of their personal health.
“I don’t think we’re ever really taught how to take care of ourselves and our mental health so when we go out into an environment, like college, where we’re on our own, we don’t know how to balance everything on our plate and our mental health takes the backseat,” Campos said. “We put ourselves and our well-being on the back burner because we’re more focused on our school work and social lives.
U!Shine aims to improve mental well being by encouraging holistic lifestyle improvements, including exercise, a well-rounded diet, a healthy spiritual life and coping techniques for stress, anxiety and depression. Students learn proactive approaches to mental health not often taught before entering college.
Freshman Meredith Eck said she enjoyed U!Shine’s first open seminar Aug. 17 and anticipates making close connections in the group.
“I was mostly looking forward to the anxiety seminar,” Eck said. “This was really good for me and I think the community is going to be good.”
Campos said she embraces preventative measures to keep herself mentally and emotionally healthy.
“Going to therapy regularly has been a huge help this year,” Campos said. “I try to put my needs first as often as possible. I give myself moments in the day where I’m completely and totally still, whether it’s just sitting and thinking or doing something where I don’t have to think, like drawing. Don’t wait until things get bad to take care of yourself, do things every day to prevent the depression and anxiety from setting in.”
U!Shine will continue to host seminars and open discussions about emotional and mental health throughout the school year.
“The idea of mental illness, depression and anxiety—those things have been around forever,” Lashley said. “I thank the students at Oklahoma Christian for having the courage to speak boldly about something that should be normalized.”