Talking mental health with the counseling center

Photo by Danielle Sisson

Given recent campus events, it is safe to say that mental health is of the utmost importance while at Tech and beyond.

However, it is not an easy thing to define, or talk about, or change. It means something different for everyone, and manifests itself in different ways.

It is important that mental health is understood within the context of one’s own life, as well as the community as a whole, so that good mental health can be practiced and discussed.

Mental health has been an important aspect of one’s whole health for quite some time, but recently a greater focus toward fostering good mental health has been taken.

“Our society and our campus communities are paying more attention to mental health issues than ever before,” said Dr. Janice Harewood, PhD.

Dr. Harewood is a licensed psychologist and the Assistant Director for Outreach and Wellness with the Georgia Tech Counselling Center.

“We understand that good mental health is essential to good health overall, and we think a lot more about how our minds and our bodies are connected and how we need to take care of both in order to be well,” she explained.

However, knowing that mental health is important and connected in key ways to one’s total well-being is not enough.

In order to have good mental health, and to facilitate discussion about it, one must recognize the factors that can influence it.

There is not any one trick or secret to good mental health. Rather it can be defined in many ways each effected by one’s life experiences and beliefs.

“A person’s view of good mental health will differ depending on their values, abilities, cultural identity or stage of development in life,” Dr. Harewood explained.

While these things change, there are several factors that influence mental health, beginning with understanding what it is.

“I like to think of good mental health as having the ability to respond to our environment with our emotions, thinking and behavior in ways that help us adapt,” Dr. Harewood said. “It’s about being flexible with our responses depending on the situations we are in, so that we can cope with challenges and function well.”

Being adaptable includes allowing positive feelings and negative feelings to be part of your emotions even though positive feelings are often the ones associated with good mental health.

“There are times when having negative emotions are a reflection of good mental health [and] feeling dissatisfied about something can lead us to take steps toward change,” Dr. Harewood said.

Ultimately, for many people this boils down to, “Feeling that one is a contributing member of society, having a sense of balance internally, having a sense of meaning in life and connection with others or having the ability to work towards one’s goals,” Dr. Harewood emphasized.

As many things help create good mental health, so too do many things cause it to deteriorate. Stressors from daily life, or from major life events can cause a deterioration when not addressed over a period of time or when they arise in conjunction with
other factors.

“Negative events and stressors are not enough to cause mental health problems by themselves, but if stress is overwhelming and not dealt with, this can result in problems with emotions, thinking and behaviors,” Dr. Harewood said.

Knowing the factors that can affect mental health is a necessary part of knowing to foster better mental health. Being proactive can be a large part of ensuring that you are armed with the tools necessary to have and maintain your mental health.

This can mean implementing stress management and problem solving skills, seeking support, either professionally or from the community, or developing a good understanding of self.

“Developing insight — understanding our experiences and being honest with ourselves about them — can help us know when there is a problem in our lives we might need to deal with. … Being willing to seek out support and help when it is needed, and being willing to take a step forward to begin to make changes are also essential,” Dr. Harewood said.

However, the buck does not stop with the individual. Everyone in a community plays a part in developing an environment where good mental health is fostered, and where issues can be discussed. This is especially important given the proximity and interconnectedness of those in the Tech community. There are several steps one can take:

“First, taking care of our own mental health puts us in a better position to help people who might need our support. Simply reaching out to others and saying ‘hi’ can help people feel more connected on campus and brighten someone’s day. Continuing to be aware of the mental health needs on campus is important, and learning how we can help others — whether by offering support directly or referring them for care — is important too,” Dr. Harewood said.

With a better understanding of mental health, students, faculty, staff are able to work to foster good health for themselves and also within the Tech  and larger community.

By taking steps to make this happen, the culture surrounding mental health will continue to change for the better.