UAFS freshman working to establish student mental health organization
Times Record - 9/10/2018
Sept. 10--A freshman at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith is working to establish a support and advocacy group for students on campus that focuses on mental health.
Megan Sonnenmoser, 33, is a nontraditional student from Kansas City who is going to UAFS part-time. Sonnenmoser said there is currently not an organization on campus that is focused on mental health for students, which is something she has with struggled her entire life.
"A few years back, I was even hospitalized," Sonnenmoser said. "I lived in Wyoming then, not here, but I know your college years, even if you're a little bit older like me, can be very tough between getting all your assignments in, keeping your grades up, personal relationships, friendships, family."
Sonnenmoser said she wants to form a group for those who are going through a rough time and need a support group or need to know healthy coping mechanisms.
"And also if you're part of a support group for somebody like that ... it's a group for those people too, if they need to understand what somebody's going through," Sonnenmoser said.
Sonnenmoser said she also wants students to know there are resources out there and what those resources are.
"Like there are (UAFS) staff members that are trained in suicide prevention, and I didn't know that until I was emailing people trying to get this started," Sonnenmoser said.
When asked if this organization has a name yet, Sonnenmoser said she was thinking Mental Health Awareness because she wanted something that is very quick and to the point.
UAFS Dean of Students Dave Stevens said in a previous Times Record article mental health is an issue throughout higher education. On Thursday, Stevens said he has been to a number of conferences and talked with colleagues, and he knows they see many of the same things that are seen at UAFS.
"Students struggling with a variety of different mental health issues, everything from bipolar to ... even suicidal ideations and things like that, and it's also in the literature that's out there," Stevens said. "I don't know why that is. ... I would hate to speculate on what specifically is causing that, but I just know that as I talk to colleagues around the country, we all have seen an increased number of students that are having suicidal ideations or other mental health related issues."
UAFS has a counseling center on campus for students to use. Stevens said the counselors in the clinic are not UAFS employees, but are from the Guidance Center. The UAFS Counseling Center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, but is closed from noon to 1 p.m., according to the UAFS website. Students are eligible for up to eight sessions per year at no additional charge.
In addition, UAFS staff members are trained in a national program called Question, Persuade and Refer.
"We're essentially taught to identify the signs of suicidal ideation, and know how to ask students those difficult questions," Stevens said. "It also teaches and instructs staff members on how to persuade and give hope to students, and then who to refer to, who to make those referrals to, to professional help because a student who is dealing with suicidal thoughts really needs somebody who's a licensed professional counselor or ... a psychiatrist, somebody who can really give them professional help."
Stevens said any UAFS student can create a student organization. Three main components are necessary. The first of these is at least 10 other students who are interested. Also required is a constitution, which is a written set of rules of how the organization will operate, and a full-time faculty or staff member who will serve as an adviser. Student organizations also have the opportunity to receive funding through the Student Government Association.
At this stage, Sonnenmoser said the organization she is trying to get started is in its infancy. She was trying to get students signed up for it during the annual UAFS Campus Picnic and Block Party Aug. 29. She got about 20 students to give her their information at the event. Sonnenmoser has also emailed some staff members about being the faculty adviser for the group.
Sonnenmoser said she would like to have the organization up and running by the start of the spring semester if possible.
"And even if the worst happens and I can't start this, I still want students to know there's some people out there that care," Sonnenmoser said.
Sonnenmoser said anyone wanting to find out more information about the organization can contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at (816) 447-5904.
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