Forum raises awareness of mental health, offers available resources

Anxiety has surpassed depression as the number one issue for patients at the University of Miami Counseling Center over the last five years, Director René Monteagudo said Tuesday night at the Mental Health Forum.

University administrators joined students and faculty in the Donna E. Shalala Student Center to raise awareness about mental health and the resources available on campus. The inaugural mental health forum was held last spring.

Monteagudo said that the distribution of issues facing their patients were similar to national numbers, but noted that anxiety was a little higher than the national average at college campuses.

“Is anyone surprised that anxiety is the biggest issue?” Monteagudo asked after showing the top issues facing the center’s patients. He said he was concerned with the lack of diversity among their patients, noting that only 50 percent of minority patients returned after their first session.

“Our staff is very attuned to men of diversity during their first session, because there’s a very good chance they won’t come back,” he said.

Monteagudo added that the diversity of their patient population doesn’t match that of the student population. The center will try to fix the problem partially through targeted group programming for different ethnicities and genders.

Monteagudo told students he was still adapting to the campus after taking the position on July 1 and outlined the recently launched services offered at the   Counseling Center. Those include anonymous mental health screenings online, an online training program for suicide prevention and an after-hours help line.

During Tuesday evening's Mental Health Forum, Dr. Monteagudo, Director of the Counseling Center, speaks about mental health in cultural and social perspectives. Kawan Amelung // Staff Photographer
During Tuesday evening’s Mental Health Forum, Dr. Monteagudo, Director of the Counseling Center, speaks about mental health in cultural and social perspectives. Kawan Amelung // Staff Photographer

When a student asked why they hadn’t heard or seen more publicity about the new services, Vice President of Student Affairs Patricia Whitely said they wanted to test the services out first and that she had even called the after-hours line herself to test it. Monteagudo said the center would begin a publicity campaign for the services this week.

President of the Student Health Advisory Committee Austin Eng hosted the event for the second time.

“I believe mental health is the basic health from which all other health arises,” Eng said.

The 100 students, administrators and faculty in the room paired up for an exercise in which they read scripts of a dialogue between one student who was worried about an exam as well as the student’s friend. The scripts were made to recreate a potential situation where mental health stigmas would be used. After the exercise students shared their thoughts on talking to friends about anxiety, stress and getting help.

A professional panel featuring Whitely, Monteagudo, UM Police Department Crime Prevention Officer John Gulla and Associate Dean of Students and Director of Greek Life Steven Priepke then fielded questions from the crowd.

In response to a question about how Greek life handles mental health, Priepke said fraternities and sororities have a chance to thrive off their togetherness.

“Greek life has the opportunity to be an incredible support system, and more often than not it is,” he said.

Whitely and Monteagudo agreed that while the climate of mental health of campus is not perfect, they were encouraged by the progress being made at the school. Monteagudo said they have seen a 30 percent increase in their patient intake this year compared to last year.

“From 1997, when I was appointed, to 2015, it is so different,” Whitely said. “There is much, much less shame, the thought of a mental health forum in 1997, or even 2005, would’ve been impossible.”