Counseling and Mental Health Center

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

President Barack Obama recently took a stance against “reparative” therapy for gay and transgender youths. For some UT students who have gone through the process, the experience can be traumatic, according to Joey Hannah, LGBTQ specialist at the University’s Counseling and Mental Health Center. 

Last week, Obama denounced gay and transgender “conversion” therapy for minors and said he would back efforts to ban the practice at the state level. He said he was inspired in part by transgender teenager Leelah Alcorn, who died by suicide and cited these types of therapies in a note she wrote shortly before her death. A petition to ban the therapies went viral online soon after she died, and the petition gained more than 120,000 signatures before it expired.

Most children just want to be accepted for who they are and struggle when they are told they must be “fixed,” according to Cristina Urdiales, Mexican American studies sophomore and legislative chair in the Queer Students Alliance.

“Conversion therapies are done to mostly young adults and kids whose parents think they’re doing the right thing, but in reality, it’s something that can scar someone for life,” Urdiales said. “As harsh as this sounds, this statement brings to light that sometimes parents don’t know best.”

Placing people in reparative therapy, also known as conversion therapy, demonstrates a misunderstanding about sexual orientation and gender identity, said Josh Rudd, neuroscience freshman and Queer Students Alliance public relations director.

“Sexual orientation and gender identity are not things one can just change,” Rudd said. “It would be like trying to force people to change their race — it’s just not really possible.”

California, New Jersey and the District of Columbia currently have laws that ban conversion therapy for minors. Last month, Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin) introduced a bill that would ban the practice for minors in Texas. The bill, which would provide an exception for counseling that “provides acceptance, support and understanding of a child or minor … [allows] identity exploration and development … [and] does not seek to change sexual orientation or gender identity,” is currently in committee.

The American Psychological Association advises that conversion or reparative therapies for young people be avoided and that families instead seek psychotherapy support and education to find accurate information about sexuality.

Hannah said he would like to see more states ban these kinds of therapies as well and for there to be wider understanding of the damaging consequences of the practice.

“This is a harmful practice, and it isn’t a viable option, and people are acceptable,” Hannah said. “The problem isn’t the person; the problem is the culture that needs to change.”

Lewinsky TED talk highlights important issue in cyberbullying

Monica Lewinsky, a name people would associate with a sex scandal with former President Bill Clinton, recently delivered an important speech about cyberbullying. In her speech, she indicated that because of the anonymity of the Internet, it is incredibly easy to say whatever people want to say when they want to say it, as if the same rules didn't apply that normal people have to follow in the real world. But what people say on the Internet can hurt, and ChildLine, a counseling service for children and young people, saw an 87 percent increase in contacts about cyberbullying from 2011-2012 to 2012-2013.  

Of course, there are laws to protect us from malicious online actions. Kevin Christopher Bollaert, who operated a website called “revenge porn” that allows people to post explicit photos of others without their permission,was recently sentenced to 18 years in prison. Victims of Bollaert's website had to pay a certain amount of money to get their image removed. Punishment to the website owner may serve as a warning to those who want to profit from invading others' privacy. However, the problem lies not only with the creator, but with those who upload such videos as well.  

Young people tend to care more about how other people see us than what we see ourselves. We constantly check how many likes we get on Facebook and rely on social approval to boost our self-esteem. It is dangerous, though. Most of us have not had extensive life experience at this point, so we are not mentally equipped to handle public shaming. 

Last year, over 10 percent of UT students sought help at the Counseling and Mental Health Center. From 2009 to 2014, the number of students walking through their doors increased from 3,900 to 5,265. While this could be a sign of decreasing stigmatization of mental illness, it also shows that mental illness is still a serious problem. 

Kathryn Redd, interim program director of CMHC, revealed the issues that students seek help with the most. The top three are stress, anxiety and depression, which can all be caused by cyberbullying.  

Identifying a problem is critical. If you notice in yourself a change in behavior, eating habits or sleeping patterns, it is time to start assessing those symptoms and seek professional help if needed. CMHC provides individual counseling as well as a MindBody Lab where students can relax and listen to music. 

If you are concerned about other students or staff, the behavior concerns advice line (512-232-5050) is the best resource. At the same time, let’s all work toward a friendly and supportive online environment, where, as Lewinsky said, everyone “speaks up with intention, not for attention."

Liu is an associate editor.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

The UT System Board of Regents approved $2.4 million at a meeting Thursday to support the expansion of alcohol prevention, education and recovery programs at all UT System schools.

 The funds will be used over the next three years for campus recovery centers and to provide services such as a web-based alcohol education program and early intervention screening programs, according to a System press release.

 UT Austin leads the UT System schools in alcohol education, according to Chris Brownson, UT associate vice president for student affairs and director of the Counseling and Mental Health Center. The system-wide implementation of the programs began in 2012 after the Board of Regents approved an initial $1 million.

 “The UT System is the only system of higher education in the nation to make this level of commitment to students by funding comprehensive programs at each academic campus,” Brownson said in the statement. 

Regent Vice Chairman Steve Hicks said in the statement that student safety includes assuring students they have a place to go for problems with alcohol.

 “This initiative is an investment in student success, student health and student safety,” Hicks said. “We want to prevent students from getting into trouble in the first place, but if they do get into trouble, we want to make sure they have a place to go that will provide the resources to get them back on track.”

 All UT System institutions do already have resources dedicated to alcohol recovery and prevention, according to the statement.

 “Though recovery centers are in various stages of development at UT academic institutions, nearly all of the campuses have a physical location, weekly recovery support group meetings, social media and/or Internet presence and a dedicated staff member to oversee the center,” the statement said.

 Susan Hochman, assistant director for public information and health promotion of University Health Services, said the funding that will go toward alcohol abuse prevention will support two different initiatives, online alcohol education and personal assessments of alcohol-related behaviors. All incoming UT students are required to take a web-based alcohol education course.

 “This is system-wide, so all system schools will be able to implement [online alcohol education] in some form or another, which some system schools have,” Hochman said.

 The funding will also support a program called Brief Alcohol Screening Intervention for College Students (BASICS), which is a program that provides a comfortable environment for students to assess their own drinking behaviors through dialogue with professionals and online testing.

“It’s wonderful to have the funding that supports prevention, and this is a great way for us to reach all of our students in a way that we know to be effective,” Hochman said.

 Cary Tucker, associate director of the Counseling and Mental Health Center, said previous funds have gone toward expanding staff to better serve students, in addition to outreach efforts.

 “I would say that primarily the funds have been used to hire staff, and, generally, that’s been one person at each of the campuses who can actually devote the time, energy and focus to leading the effort,” Tucker said.

 Tucker said the recovery efforts provide a sense of community for those recovering from alcohol abuse.

 “It really is so heartening that it’s just having a place on campus where people in recovery can feel that they belong, that they have community and they have support,” Tucker said.

The Counseling and Mental Health Center showcases signs discussing Suicide Prevention Week. The initiative, which started in 2009 aims to promote awareness and self-care.

Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

The Counseling and Mental Health Center began its annual “Suicide Prevention Week” on Monday to combat death by suicide, which, according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, is the second leading cause of death among college students.

Suicide Prevention Week first took place at the University in 2009 and primarily focuses on spreading awareness and promoting self-care. Monday’s event aimed to inform students on the importance of listening to those who are struggling with mental health.

Marian Trattner, suicide prevention coordinator for the Counseling and Mental Health Center, or CMHC, said it is important to show students the issue exists and empower them to gain the skills and knowledge to combat the problem. According to Trattner, 18 percent of undergraduate students have seriously considered suicide, and 8 percent of them have made a suicide attempt.

“While those numbers are really hard to hear, the good news is that we can prevent suicide by talking about it and by letting students know, who are suffering in silence, that they are not alone, that people care about them and that there are resources on campus to help,” Trattner said.

The CMHC will hold events through Thursday, addressing ways to reduce the risk of suicide, promote self-care, highlight firearm safety and inform students on how they can be support systems for their peers. Jane Morgan Bost, associate director for the CMHC, said the department aims to detach any shame that is associated with suicide.

“We’re trying to raise awareness for an issue that, a lot of times, has shame connected to it,” Bost said. “We’re trying to bring it out of the shadows and into the light.”

Bost said, since she started working at the University 23 years ago, she has noticed a paradigm shift away from the stigma associated with going to the CMHC for aid.

“I find that more and more people are feeling … less reluctant about coming to get help,” Bost said. “However, we still have students who have told me the hardest thing they’ve ever done is coming to the counseling center.”

The CMHC offers individual counseling as well as a 24/7 “crisis line” for students to call to speak with trained staff about urgent concerns. Trattner said students can get involved by volunteering to help spread awareness, even though the counseling center is staffed by mental health clinicians.

Neurobiology senior Maisha Rumman has been volunteering to help plan the week since the early summer and said she is involved with the CMHC because she believes everyone is susceptible to struggling with mental health.

“I have friends and family who have mental health problems, and I’ve experienced firsthand how damaging it can be to your family and your life,” Rumman said. “I feel strongly that, at some time in your life, you’re going to encounter someone with these problems. That’s the reason I got involved.”

Photo Credit: Caleb Kuntz | Daily Texan Staff

When it comes to relationship violence, international students and their partners deal with barriers most other students on campus do not even consider.

According to Erin Burrows, prevention and outreach specialist at Voices Against Violence, students stay in abusive relationships for a number of reasons, and face a special set of concerns as a result of their international status. Burrows said victims often hope their partners can change their behaviors or do not wish to get their partners in trouble with the law. 

“There’s two things simultaneously going on — one is the hope that you can get that behavior to stop,” Burrows said. “There’s a lot of love and affection [in the relationships], and sometimes we forget about that part. The second is the flip side, which is the fear of consequences.”

Many factors may contribute to international students’ reluctance to report abuse they experience, including language barriers and a fear of being sent back to their home countries, according to Samira Ghosh, community resource advocate at Asian Family Support Services of Austin, is a nonprofit organization that primarily helps clients from South Asian countries. 

UT’s Counseling and Mental Health Center often refers international students’ spouses to the nonprofit. International spouses are referred to non-University services when they are in the country on visas that prevent them from enrolling as full-time students — because they are not students, they cannot utilize on-campus resources.

International students usually come to the United States to enroll in a full-time degree program using the F-1 student status, according to information provided by UT’s International Office. Those students’ dependents, including spouses or children, often have F-2 visas. Those who hold F-2 visas are not allowed to be employed in the U.S., study full-time or participate in degree programs. 

International graduate students, who are more likely to be married than their undergraduate counterparts, are also more likely than other graduate students to live in on-campus housing. About 75 percent of the residents at University Apartments, which are graduate-student apartment complexes, are international students, according to the Spring University Residence Halls Demographic Report by the Division of Housing and Food Service. According to Ghosh, many abuse victims with F-2 status are afraid to report abuse because they are barred from co-signing leases at the graduate student apartments.

“If your spouse is abusive, he or she can basically just throw you out because you’re like a guest in your own house,” Ghosh said. “You could become homeless, and the spouse could call immigration to cancel your status.”

According to Ghosh, Asian Family Support Services has 250 hotline calls each year. She said the organization receives such a low number of reports — only five to six cases by the Asian population per year — because many immigrants from Asian countries are embarrassed to report domestic abuse and sexual assault.

“Asians do not like to report sexual assault because, culturally, they are supposed to not talk about sex,” Ghosh said.

Ghosh said the conditions of F-2 visas can themselves be a cause of tension in relationships.

“You can imagine the dependence when you are not allowed to work in this country you are basically stuck in,” Ghosh said. “That dependence on somebody to such a great level is a huge problem and it can very soon become an abusive relationship.”

Jane Bost, associate director at the Counseling and Mental Health Center, said the University provides many resources for all students to deal with relationship violence but cannot serve non-students. Bost said the University tries to make external resources as widely known as possible to help those they cannot serve themselves.

“If they’re not enrolled, then they’re not eligible for services here,” Bost said. “That’s why we promote on our website. They can always call in, and one of our response teams can give them references to local organizations.”

Although Asian Family Support Services offers programs in 12 languages with the help of 12 permanent employees, it does not offer emergency housing. The only place in Austin that offers temporary housing for victims of domestic abuse is the nonprofit SafePlace, which also provides a 24-hour hotline and counseling service.

According to Julia Null Smith, senior director of marketing and communications for SafePlace, the 105-bed shelter and all direct services are wait-listed. SafePlace served more than 5,000 people last year and had 11,247 hotline calls. Null Smith said the shelter provides services to anyone, regardless of whether they are U.S. citizens.

“Domestic violence isn’t necessarily something that is labeled and called out,” Null Smith said. “The more removed you are from your own culture, isolation becomes a massive problem for people living in violent relationships.”

Correction: This article has been updated since its original posting. Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of the story misstated the name of the community resource advocate at the Asian Family Support Services of Austin. Her name is Samira Ghosh.

Dese'Rae L. Stage, founder and photographer behind the "Live Through This Project," speaks to a group of students Tuesday evening as part of Suicide Prevention Week. 

 

Photo Credit: Sam Ortega | Daily Texan Staff

Students are under incredible pressure – finding a job, dealing with relationships and making the most of their four years on the 40 Acres. But when these pressures turn into something destructive and thoughts of suicide and self-harm begin to seem reasonable compared to what’s ahead, it’s time to seek help.

As much as college is about exploring yourself, having fun and becoming a productive and successful human being, there are aspects of college life that no one wants to talk about - loneliness, boredom and fear. This University is daunting, and students coming straight from high school can slip through the cracks more easily than any of us want to admit. It’s our responsibility as members of the university community to lift those people up, and this week is the perfect time to start.

This week is Suicide Prevention Awareness Week at the University of Texas. Spearheaded by the Counseling and Mental Health Center (CMHC) in partnership with Student Government, the Tejas Club and Texas Parents, the week is full of events aimed at helping all members of the University of Texas understand that they are not alone. As both a member of the student advisory board for the CMHC and the Tejas Club, I believe suicide prevention efforts should always be supported and expanded at the University of Texas.

According to the Daily Beast, as of 2010, among those aged 15-49, suicide was the leading cause of death, surpassing heart disease, AIDS and cancer. Among that group, more people are dying by suicide than the year before. The jump in suicide rates is seen by some as generational. Others see suicide as preventable, and predict that rates will drop with less access to guns or a better economic climate.  The reality is that suicide is a public health issue, but one that has been consistently misunderstood.

For college students, suicide is part of our everyday life. According to the CMHC, 18 percent of undergraduate students and 15 percent of graduate students have seriously considered suicide as an option. Of those, 8 percent of undergraduates and 5 percent of graduate students have acted on that consideration. This means that most students on this campus are close with someone who has thought about self-harm, whether they know or not. The excuse that suicide does not affect you does not hold up to the truth.

Events all week include workshops to help students, faculty and staff recognize peers who might be thinking about suicide. Many people do not have significant outward expressions to let others know they are thinking about suicide, which is why it is important to receive professional training to recognize those that are in need.

Organizations around the globe have made progress in eliminating the stigma associated with suicide and mental health in general. But every time “kill yourself” is thrown around as an insult or threats of suicide are treated in the same vein as casual complaints, we take two steps back.

It’s easy to walk past the flyers and look past suicide prevention week as just another University campaign. But it’s not nearly as easy to get educated or to treat suicide and mental health with the same severity as other diseases with large mortality rates.

It’s high time that suicide was treated as more than a generational tic, and mental health as more than something to be overcome. Suicide is not the last resort of the weak, or the product of bad genes or a way of seeking attention. For every student on the 40 Acres, suicide should always be a serious concern and help should be offered readily. We cannot afford to keep waiting until it’s too late.

 

 

 

Radio Television Film and psychology senior Sean Minns and English freshman Bryna Herskowitz pet Angel, a Therapy Pet Pal, during Stressfest Wednesday afternoon. StressFest provided students with other stress-relieving activities such as massages and acupuncture.

Photo Credit: Pearce Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

Rain did not keep the stress relief cruise from boarding passengers inside Gregory Gym on Wednesday afternoon at an annual event hosted by the Counseling and Mental Health Center.

StressFest 2013 invited all members of the University community to alleviate stress before the end of the semester by providing students with strategies and resources to manage anxiety.

Laura Ebady, a psychologist and outreach coordinator for the center, said the event is in its 16th year and is traditionally known for its tropical cruise theme.

“We’ve always done this in part to give students a sense of getting away from it all and giving them a break from things,” Ebady said. “We have different tables here where students can get a quick break like getting a chair massage or playing with therapy dogs.”

Therapeutic dogs were brought from Therapy Pet Pals of Texas, a volunteer organization that specializes in pet therapy and helping residents of nursing homes.

According to the Wellness Network, a campus-wide coalition committed to creating a healthy campus culture, 55 percent of UT students report experiencing more than average stress or tremendous stress within the past 12 months.

Jessica Hughes Wagner, manager of University Health Services, said she attributes the excess of stress to perfection and how students can sometimes take drugs to see who can study the longest.

“It seems to be a trend level of perfection that students hold themselves to,” Wagner said. “A lot of the work I do is study drug use and an increase in that seems to indicate more competitiveness and a perfectionism that isn’t realistic.”

Besides massages and therapy dogs, StressFest featured live music, fortune telling and sex trivia as well as free t-shirts, food and candy to help alleviate any anxiety associated with finals. Jane Bost, the associate director of the Counseling and Mental Health Center, said the purpose of the event is to expose students to different departments that help to manage stress effectively.

“The goal is not to eliminate stress but find ways to manage it,” Bost said. “Life is too fluid to feel like you can reach a perfect level, but being mindful and aware and taking steps to take care of yourself are all a part of the process.”

Health promotion junior Amber Pittz said she was glad she noticed the event after passing by on her way to class.

“So far I’m pretty happy,” Pittz said. “I got a free snow cone and a free t-shirt. And who doesn’t like to pet a dog?”

Printed on Thursday, April 11, 2013 as Escape from reality 

I was bullied during middle school. For a short period during my seventh-grade year, a gang of my classmates bullied me so fiercely and frequently that their attacks fundamentally changed the person I grew up to be.  My close friends have heard me refer to this affecting experience from my past. They have also heard me joke that the silver lining of being bullied is that it helped my ability to take an insult and increased the speed at which I generate comebacks.

When I have talked to other college students about my experience with bullying during middle school, the response has always been one of empathy and understanding. No one can deny that middle school is hell, and most people accept bullying and being bullied as part and parcel of an American adolescence. But what if my memories were set not in the past but in the present, in the halls of my dorm room instead of in my middle school homeroom? Would my fellow students still identify with my memories of being bullied if they occurred on a college campus? I suspect not, but that is by no means because bullying doesn’t occur on college campuses. Rather, we lack a definition of bullying that incorporates college students, and consequently, we often fail to recognize it among our own age group.

I haven’t been bullied during my time at UT, but I’m not sure I would recognize it if I were. What is bullying, anyway, when it doesn’t fit into the paradigms of lunch money theft or locker room taunts? The government-run website stopbullying.gov defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.” Medlineplus.gov, another government-run website, defines bullying as “when a person or group repeatedly tries to harm someone who is weaker or who they think is weaker.” The second definition does not explicitly limit bullying to children, but the webpage on which it is found goes on to talk about bullying’s effects on children and teenagers. Clearly, bullying is seen as something that stops when you leave high school. But abuses of real or perceived power imbalances certainly occur among college students as well.

Neither the Office of the Dean of Students nor the Counseling and Mental Health Center mentions bullying on its website. The Office of the Dean of Students does, however, deal with allegations of hazing, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. And while bullying isn’t on the CMHC’s list of  “Common Student Concerns,” many of the concerns, including stalking, assertiveness and relationship and dating violence, speak directly and indirectly to managing imbalances of power.

In many ways, the complications of adult life — including the absence of a principal’s office to settle disputes — mean that we need numerous categories to define and make sense of the single, overarching problem of abuse of power. Bullying, we should remember, runs the gamut from verbal to physical assault. Even the range and order of the spectrum is continually debated, forcing us to admit that bullying between adults is an issue much larger and more complex than your average playground name-calling.

The problem with associating bullying only with children is that it leaves adults — and especially college students — to play a vocabulary game when identifying serious problems. Sexual assault is different than sexual misconduct, which is different than hazing, which is different than stalking, which is different than discrimination. When we jumble these words together, they become heavy not only with emotional weight but also with legal implications. How can I feel comfortable reaching out for help from my university with a problem of bullying if I don’t know what constitutes bullying? And if I don’t know what constitutes bullying in the university’s eyes, how can I know if they consider my problem worthwhile?

Recently, a friend of mine found herself in an emotionally trying situation in which she felt manipulated by a powerful classmate. Though her friends urged her to take action, my friend’s problem didn’t fit into any of the conveniently defined categories, so she felt that the problem was not legitimate.

This is not to say that the Office of the Dean of Students should start fielding complaints for bullying or that the Counseling and Mental Health Center should change their name to the “Bullying Help Center.” On the contrary, both of these agencies do a great job providing resources to students who are being bullied. Rather, we as students need to understand that bullying exists on college campuses, both within the traditionally defined categories such as hazing and sexual harassment and beyond them. It is the job of the University to handle these complaints — to sort the minor disputes from the major ones  — and they have the procedures in place to do so.

A student saying, “’I’m just really stressed out’ can mean anything from ‘I’m having difficulty sleeping’ to ‘I’m considering suicide,’” explained Jane Bost, associate director of the Counseling and Mental Health Center. “Part of what we do is to help people clarify [their problems] and to empower them with various options.”

But clarification, and subsequent healing, can’t begin until we call bullying (in all forms and by any name)  what it really is — a significant problem on college campuses.

Wright is a Plan II and biology junior from San Antonio.

On Tuesday, Nov. 13th, the Daily Texan published an opinion column by Katelyn Sack titled “UT’s response to rape fails to protect students.” Ms. Sack’s column gave readers the impression that UT does not provide adequate services for survivors of sexual violence. This assertion is, quite simply, untrue.

Voices Against Violence is a holistic program operated through UT’s Counseling and Mental Health Center. This program provides resources for survivors of sexual violence and works to educate the university community about relationship violence, sexual assault and stalking. Since its inception in 2001, VAV has spearheaded the University’s efforts to prevent sexual violence and provide resources and services for survivors. Although I am not here to claim the system in place is perfect, I believe that it is important for all UT students to know their options as victims of sexual violence and UT’s programs and policies geared toward providing survivor services.

In the 10 years that VAV has existed, more than 150,000 individuals on UT’s campus  — from orientation advisors and the UT Police Department to incoming freshmen and student athletes — have participated in VAV’s training sessions. These sessions offer information on how to be a safe and supportive first responder when an incident of sexual violence is reported, what sexual violence entails and how to identify red flags.

Ms. Sack suggested in her column that part of UT’s failure concerning survivors of sexual assault lies in how survivors are counseled on campus and what their “best reporting option” may be. To be clear, no one has the power to tell survivors how best to respond to their experiences. In fact, for some, the “best reporting option” may be no report whatsoever. The very notion that any one path could possibly be “almost always survivors’ best reporting option” shows an inherent misunderstanding of a survivor ally’s role. The individual who experienced the violence is the expert on it and how he or she feels about it. Attempting to tell a survivor what is best for them potentially disregards a survivor’s ability to take control of an already difficult situation. No one has the right to take the power to choose out of the hands of the survivor.

Voices Against Violence employs a survivor-centered approach. This means that regardless of how survivors choose to come forward with their story — whether they’re seeking medical attention by calling the 24-hour University Health Services nurse advice line, justice by reporting to the UT Police Department, guidance from a resident assistant, or peace of mind by contacting a Voices Against Violence counselor directly  — VAV has trained all of these individuals to respond appropriately. In line with the philosophy of keeping a survivor’s power in his or her own hands, an appropriate response includes disclosure of all reporting options available to the student, some of which include filing a criminal complaint, civil complaint and/or a University complaint.

Despite Sack’s assertion that a civil suit is a survivor’s best option, each of the options listed above has unique pros and cons that affect every survivor in equally distinct ways. Although civil cases are statistically easier to win, in the event of a student committing sexual assault against a peer, a lawyer may not even pick up a civil case. In a civil case, the survivor is essentially suing his or her assailant for a dollar amount that coincides with the heinousness of the crime committed. If the assailant is a young adult in college, he or she is unlikely to have the means with which to pay that amount — and who can really put a price on the privilege of living a life free of sexual violence? If damages cannot be collected, no one gets paid unless a negligent third party can be found responsible and brought to court.

So, yes, civil cases may be easier to win, but only if you can find the money to pay a lawyer to take the case and if the offender has assets. If a survivor finds a feeling of closure in seeing his or her attacker pronounced guilty, that is the survivor’s choice to make, whether through a civil or criminal suit.

In the end, the best support an ally can provide is respecting the power a survivor has over his or her life. The process of creating a safer campus is, as always, a work in progress. Until sexual violence is eradicated, there is more work to be done. But if you are a survivor in need of a place to turn, look to your family. Look to your friends. Look to your fellow Longhorns. We are here and we will listen. We can help.

If you would like to speak to a counselor trained in issues related to relationship violence, sexual violence and stalking, call the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center , which is open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., at 471-3515 and request a VAV appointment when scheduling.

If you need to see someone immediately, please come to CMHC on the 5th floor of the Student Services Building and ask to see a Crisis Counselor. No appointment is necessary.

If you would like to speak to someone over the phone confidentially and anonymously, please call UT 24-hour telephone counseling at 512-471-CALL (2255).

Wilkins is a member of Voices Against Violence’s student organization and an economics and international business junior from New Braunfels.

Last week, the Counseling and Mental Health Center hosted Suicide Prevention Week. In light of their efforts, I can’t help but think of my own inner demons.  It’s never easy, but I have to face it: I have major depressive disorder.

Before I was diagnosed, I had a very negative and incorrect perception of major depressive disorder. When I heard ‘depression,” I assumed somebody was throwing a pity party and just finding an excuse to be grumpy all the time. I thought of the celebrities with lives most people can only dream of, complaining about how depressed they were.  It was outrageous to me; they’re filthy rich, they’re famous, they’re successful. I was sure they were just whining for attention.

Then, when it was described as a mental illness, I drew even worse conclusions. I thought of psychopaths and weirdos and homeless men passed out drunk on the streets. So you can imagine my embarrassment when I was diagnosed with depression myself. Even now I worry that people will treat me differently or think less of me when they find out I suffer from it. So with all the stigma attached to depression, what exactly is it?

Major depressive disorder, commonly known as clinical depression, affects approximately 10 million people, or 3 percent of Americans.  I used to be among those who thought depression was a made-up problem and a scam for the pharmaceutical companies to raise profits.  I figured people were running to therapists because they were too cowardly to face their own problems, but then I learned the hard way that depression is very real.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, clinical depression is caused by an imbalance of two neurochemicals, serotonin and norepinephrine. The symptoms are not simply bad moods or sadness.  Yes, depression does induce sadness and negative moods, but it also slows and deadens your bodily functions and leads to insomnia. Your interest in life declines, and formerly enjoyable activities provide no satisfaction. It becomes difficult to think straight, and concentration is unattainable. Constant fatigue, without reason, without end, wears you down.  Food loses its taste. Anxiety never ceases. You’re wracked by recurring remorse and guilt, and everything feels like it’s your fault. 

But in my own experience, worst of all are the overwhelming feelings of worthlessness, helplessness and hopelessness.  Suicidal thoughts take over your mind, leaving you unable to function.
There were days that I was consumed by depression.  I remember one particularly beautiful day when I was not outside.  I was in my bed with the lights off.  Logically, I had absolutely no reason to be unhappy.  But emotionally, there was not a single drop of joy to be tasted. I was crippled, immobilized, unable to do anything at all — yet there was nothing I even wanted to do.  Everything sounded like a bad idea. I wondered if life was even worth living.

Thankfully, I’ve rediscovered how valuable life is.

Depression is a bitch.  There’s no other way to put it.  But I’ve survived days of total despair and desolation, so when a good day rolls around, I appreciate it in ways I never could have before my depression. The smallest things — a smile, a laugh — are more powerful than I could ever have imagined.

According to UT’s Counseling and Mental Health Center, suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students. Eighteen percent of undergraduates and 15 percent of graduate students have seriously considered suicide; 8 percent of undergrads and 5 percent of graduate students have actually attempted it. So to those of you struggling — you are not alone.  Don’t hesitate to get help.

We all face our own unique challenges. Those challenges can make life more difficult, but they also make us stronger. We all endure hard times, but I can only hope that we will learn from those experiences and see life for the gift that it is.

McCann is a Plan II freshman from Dallas.