Jane Morgan Bost

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.”

The launch of a national campaign Friday addressing sexual assault prevention on college campuses highlights University efforts to tackle sexual violence, according to a University health official. 

President Barack Obama announced the “It’s On Us” campaign, the latest effort from an ongoing White House initiative to reduce the number of sexual assaults among college students. The campaign encourages bystander intervention, particularly from men, through public service announcements featured nationwide.

According to Obama, about one in five women is sexually assaulted during college, but only 12 percent of victims report the assault. 

Erin Burrows, health education coordinator at the Counseling and Mental Health Center, or CMHC, said the “It’s On Us” campaign can start conversations about the role of students in sexual assault prevention.

“This campaign is really about what students can do at the grassroots level to take action,” Burrows said.

The University program BeVocal, which launched in April, addresses tactics students can use to prevent violence, such as sexual assault, suicide and domestic violence. 

Jane Morgan Bost, the associate director of Prevention and Outreach Services at the CMHC, said the BeVocal program was created to promote a student culture that stands against violence.

“We want to create culture change and say Longhorns care for Longhorns,” Bost said. “We don’t just stand by and watch something happen to another Longhorn.”

Burrows said BeVocal provides student organizations with intervention training that presents direct and indirect ways students can engage a high-risk situation.

“There is no hierarchy in intervention,” Burrows said. “Depending on what the circumstances are in the situation, you really need to figure out how to best use the tools that you have.”

Bost said students often will not act in a case of sexual assault because of “groupthink” mentality.

“If a person sees there’s a problem going on, but no one is doing anything about it, that person might think, ‘I must be wrong. No one here is responding.’” Bost said.

Burrows said indirect methods of intervention can be an effective way for individuals to counteract the pressure of intervening. 

“For example, if there’s a stranger-based situation down on Sixth Street, and you don’t know what the deal is, then it might be your best bet to get other people involved like the bouncer or the bartender,” Burrows said.  

Public health junior Liliana Vasquez said she hopes to see more men take responsibility for sexual assault prevention because, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Justice, almost 99 percent of sexual assault offenders are male. 

“If you look at a lot of the violence prevention work, it’s mostly headed by women, which, in fact, it shouldn’t be,” Vazquez said. “It should be the other way around or a lot more balanced so that people are working together to shift culture.”

Photo Credit: Aaron Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff

Although the holiday season may present challenges to staying healthy, students can avoid common holiday pitfalls with a few tips and University health resources.

Nutritional sciences professor Stephen Hursting said it is easy for students’ metabolisms to be disrupted during the holiday season when they are surrounded by many desserts and other calorie-dense food. 

“Splurge a little bit here or there, but don’t go too overboard,” Hursting said. “You don’t have to eat every bite — if someone serves you a big piece of cheesecake, don’t feel like you have to eat the whole thing.”

Biology sophomore Cynthia Williamson said although she is conscious of her diet, she will need to watch her holiday food consumption.

“The biggest issue I have during the holidays is restricting myself,” Williamson said. “Whenever I go home, I want to eat a lot of good home-cooked food, but I have to limit myself.”

Hursting said weight gain is typical during the holidays. He said students should monitor caloric intake when at events or with friends and family.

“We’re stimulated by sights and smells, and it can be kind of a trigger for us even when we’re not hungry,” Hursting said.

Hursting said students can avoid splurging by drinking water and by increasing physical activity to compensate for increased food consumption.

Jane Morgan Bost, UT Counseling and Mental Health Center associate director, said students should be self-aware of the motivations behind their food choices.

“Enjoy and really savor [food] instead of just eating to eat kind of [as] a behavior,” Bost said. 

Bost said there are several University health resources students can remotely utilize during the holidays, including phone counseling services available 24/7 and Stress Recess, an interactive stress website.

“[Stress Recess] has a lot of really great, specific tips for stress and how to handle stress,” Bost said. “There are some great relaxation exercises that they can do.”

Bost said the University also provides tip sheets, such as one titled “Home for the Holidays,” which can help students handle challenges that may arise when they are home for the holidays. She said learning how to manage stress before it happens will help students build confidence to handle the inevitable challenges
in life.

“People think that we need to have this perfectly balanced life that we strive for,” Bost said. “It may not always feel like you’re totally balanced, but it’s more the process of trying to stay true to yourself and the important things [to] you.”

In 2000, Jane Morgan Bost wrote a grant to the U.S. Department of Justice to get funding for the first on-campus program to combat interpersonal violence affecting UT students. After this call to action for comprehensive victim services, the program received funding, and Voices Against Violence came to fruition a year later.

To kick off Sexual Assault Awareness month, VAV will host the ninth annual Take Back the Night event today. It allows people to speak out as allies and bystanders around these issues in an open place.

According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, completed and attempted rapes occur at a rate of 35 per every 1,000 female students.

“We see survivors of interpersonal violence who come by the center and seek our individual and group counseling and advocacy services,” said Bost, who is now director of Voices Against Violence.

These services include providing specific information on how survivors can acquire safety planning and how to navigate the legal system and medical resources. Bost said the program has seen hundreds of survivors of interpersonal violence who come in for help regarding these issues and who get involved through prevention efforts.

“Because we have such a strong student response and interest in the topic, it seems [interpersonal violence] affects just about everybody in some way,” Bost said.

The event offers the opportunity for speakers to address the everyday micro-aggressions when people of any sexual orientation are referred to with negative language. Individuals who attend the event take a stand and support others through sharing the experiences of family and friends or their own in a safe setting.

“Take Back the Night is a historical event that’s been going on since the ’70s,” said Erin Burrows, prevention and outreach specialist at VAV. “It was a march for a community to literally take back the streets and light up the night with candles, protests, signs and chants.”

Burrows said it has since evolved into a different kind of event at UT where the platform is centered on an open mic speak-out.

Aside from Take Back the Night, the Voices Against Violence program will hosts various other events, including the Theatre for Dialogue performances, which are interactive theater pieces that students perform across campus for classes, student organizations and departments.

“Through our performances, we try to show how to identify when something is a problem and how we support a friend who may be experiencing an abusive or unhealthy relationship,” said Lynn Hoare, Theatre for Dialogue spokeswoman. “The performances act as a way to prepare people to actively respond as an ally if they find themselves in a situation [of sexual assault].”

Consent in sexual situations can be complicated to navigate, especially for undergraduate students who may not have much experience with physical intimacy.

Consent requires both parties in a sexual encounter give explicit permission for a particular sex act to take place, students learned during a presentation Monday called “Get Sexy. Get Consent.” Voices Against Violence, a program of the Counseling and Mental Health Center, hosted the performance, where actors demonstrated cases in which sexual consent might become an issue.

For example, a one-night stand in which partners have only just met might result in intentions becoming unclear, a situation that could be dangerous if both partners are unable to openly discuss their consent.

Jane Morgan Bost, Counseling and Mental Health Center associate director, said she created the Voices Against Violence program because people don’t typically discuss the issue of consent in an open manner.

“People in general find it very difficult to really address and it’s at the heart of a lot of interpersonal violence,” she said.

In order for there to be consent, both partners must be able, both physically and emotionally, to directly express their comfortability with sexual activity taking place without pressure from their partner. This includes not only intercourse, but also situations such as when one person wishes to practice safe sex while their partner does not. Consent to one type of activity does not guarantee consent to others, and participants must understand their own boundaries before being put into sexually charged situations as well as know how to clearly articulate those boundaries.

Lynn Hoare, Theater for Dialogue specialist for Voices Against Violence, created the “Get Sexy. Get Consent.” program.

She said the program is targeted at younger college students because of their lack of exposure to the issue.

“It’s really [targeted] at all undergraduate levels,” Hoare said. “Students often come to college without any opportunity to have honest conversations about sex, and this gives them a chance to talk about it honestly and hear other people talk about it honestly in a low-stake environment without actually being in the moment.”

Students should feel comfortable discussing their needs in a sexual relationship, said Meghna Joy, biology freshman and actress in the “Get Sexy. Get Consent.” program.

“People just need to be okay with talking about it,” Joy said. “In sexual situations where other people get pressured, they don’t want to seem un-cool or seem like a prude and so they need to know it’s okay to say no, and it’s okay to state what you want and [your partner] should be okay with it too.”

Bost said she hopes to bring about real change on UT campus with upcoming performances of “Get Sexy. Get Consent.”

“Our hope is that this will be something for both men and women that will make a difference in changing behaviors and attitudes,” Bost said. “We want to provide the skills they need to start conversations around [consent] and creating healthy relationships.”

The emotional health of first-year college students has reached an all-time low while stress levels have increased significantly, according to a survey published by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles. The study, which has been published annually for the past 45 years, surveys first-year students at nearly 300 institutions across the nation. UT did not participate in the survey last year, but the University has in the past. Students take the survey either during their freshman orientation or during the first few weeks of class. This year’s survey revealed that 51.9 percent of 1.5 million students reported that their emotional health was in the ‘highest 10 percent’ or ‘above average.’ This number has declined 3.4 percent — from 55.3 percent — since 2009, according to the survey’s press release. “I think students have a lot of pressure coming in,” said Linda DeAngelo, assistant director for research at the Higher Education Research Institute. “They have high expectations for college.” Female students are more likely to report lower levels of emotional health than male students, according to the report. “Men are more likely to engage in stress-relieving activities, such as playing sports,” DeAngelo said. “Women may also just be more in touch with how they feel or how they should feel than men.” Another reason for the decrease in high emotional health is the economy and the stress of paying for college, DeAngelo said. “[College is] tough on students in terms of looking ahead, paying off loans, [finding] jobs,” said Jane Morgan Bost, associate director of UT’s Counseling and Mental Health Center. Another potential reason for this increase is the higher incidence of mental illness among 18-25 year olds, Bost said. That age range is the most common time for a first psychotic episode to emerge in an individual, she said. In general, the frequency of students of any age who are in need of counseling has increased, Bost said. “We have definitely noticed an increase in students who say that they are in crisis,” Bost said. Although the number of students who consider themselves to have high emotional health has decreased this year, there are several ways to prevent stress from building to dangerous levels. “[Students] should make sure that they are engaging in activities that will help them reduce stress, such as playing sports or exercising,” DeAngelo said. “[Another thing] is not to worry about the future but to focus on the job at hand, which is doing well in school and finding what their passions are.”

More UT students who go to the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center have urgent needs or serious mental health issues than in the past, according to center administrators.

This trend parallels similar changes nationwide. According to the American College Counseling Association’s 2010 national survey, 91 percent of counseling center directors reported a trend toward more severe cases at their colleges. The number of urgent student mental health cases has significantly increased for at least the past 10 years, according to the association’s survey.

At UT and nationwide, more students present mental health issues such as bipolar disorder, learning disabilities or psychiatric medication issues.

Since he became director of the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center in 2006, Dr. Chris Brownson said he has noticed a change in problems students bring to the center.

“I’d say in my time at the counseling center, we have seen an increase in the severity,” Brownson said. “At the same time, students still come in for other reasons, like dealing with a relationship or dealing with anxiety they feel is holding them back in classes.”

Dr. Jane Morgan Bost, associate director of the center, said the causes of these increases haven’t been researched fully but have a few probable causes. She said students today face increased academic pressures and widespread economic difficulties and uncertainty. Also, a higher number of students with serious mental health issues are able to attend college because of what newer medications and treatments contribute, she said.

Jared Loughner, the suspect in the Jan. 8 Arizona shooting that left U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in intensive care, showed signs of mental illness before the incident. Pima Community College, which Loughner briefly attended, identified warning signs of a potential mental illness in Loughner before the shooting. Although the college contacted Loughner’s parents, he never received medical attention from the school.

Loughner will appear in court before a federal judge Monday for his arraignment.

For cases where students present warning signs of mental illness or danger to other students, UT operates a Behavior Concerns Advice Line.

Bost said the behavior advice line helps the University find and address mental health issues similar to those Loughner presented. She said the line is operated by the Office of the Dean of Students and multiple UT departments. She said the Division of Student Affairs, the UT Center for Counseling and Mental Health, Services for Students with Disabilities and the UT Police Department all work together closely to provide students with the services they need.
She said a call on the advice line could result in anything from a call from student affairs to the beginning of a counseling program.

UTPD Detective Michael Riojas said when the line receives a tip, they usually notify the police department. Riojas said the police department usually takes action on a few cases a month, but the load distribution is inconsistent.

After being notified of a concern, Riojas said the department does research on the student in question and usually ends up either bringing the student in for a discussion with the dean of the Division of Student Affairs or sending out officers to interview the student.