CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Services and the Office of Student Affairs are working to shed light on mental health.

For the second year, they’re organizing “From Darkness to Daylight,” an event that offers students, faculty and staff the chance to talk about mental health issues. The all-day event takes place Feb. 9 and includes a seminar on alcohol and mental health wellness, a book discussion and Q&A with author Ross Szabo, and a free public lecture by Szabo on “What Happy Faces Are Hiding.”

Larry Roper, Vice Provost for Student Affairs, said broaching the topic was important to the campus community. “We’re trying to normalize discussions about mental health issues,” Roper said. “They affect our community on so many different levels.”

Szabo brings his personal knowledge of mental health struggles to campus during his presentations. At age 16, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and learned to fight stereotypes and stigma in order to make mental health issues a topic that people can discuss openly and without shame. He is the director of youth outreach for the National Mental Health Awareness Campaign.

His candid discussions about mental health are perfect for OSU’s event, Roper said. “We want to deepen people’s knowledge about various dimensions of mental health and various issues,” he said.

Not only is the period of late teens and early 20s a time when many people first face mental health problems, Roper said, but because of advances in medication, many people who would have previously been unable to attend college are now stable enough to come to the university. However, he pointed out, they are not always successful despite their medications.

Jacqueline Alvarez, director of Counseling & Psychological Services at OSU, said addressing mental health concerns is crucial on college campuses.

“Mental health issues affect our ability to be learners and scholars,” she said, “and if we want to be our best we have to tend the whole person.”

Many students struggle with depression, debilitating stress and other issues, Alvarez said. According to figures from the American College Health Association’s National College Health assessment in Spring 2008, 9 percent of students have had serious thoughts of suicide in the last year, and 1.3 percent of the students have actually attempted suicide. OSU’s numbers are slightly lower, with 7.5 percent of OSU students saying they’d seriously considered suicide in the past year, and 1 percent attempting suicide. Alvarez said she considers those national numbers to be epidemic.

She said that society’s obsession with quick fixes makes many people focus only on the medical components of mental health management, but studies show that medication taken in conjunction with counseling is far more effective. And for young people who are still laying down neural networks, learning how to manage stress and anxiety through counseling might drastically change their ability to cope as adults.

“If you lay down a depression reaction to stress, it’s very hard to change that pattern (later),” Alvarez said. “That’s why the counseling piece becomes an imperative part of treatment.”

A newly formed student group at OSU, Active Minds, has helped organize the Feb. 9 event. It was students who chose to bring Szabo to campus. In addition to his work with the National Mental Health Awareness campaign, Szabo is co-author of the book, “Behind Happy Faces: Taking Charge of Your Mental Health.”

The Division of Student Affairs has created a new listserv called Active Minds Allies for people who are interested in knowing about mental health events. People may self-subscribe at:

The schedule of events for Feb. 9 follows:

• Alcohol & Mental Health Wellness, a discussion with Ross Szabo, 9 to 10:30 a.m., MU Ballroom;
• “Behind Happy Faces: Taking Charge of Your Mental Health, a book discussion and Q&A with Szabo, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., MU Lounge;
• “What Happy Faces are Hiding,” a lecture on how societal stereotypes can lead to increased loneliness, isolation and suicide, by
Szabo, 7 to 9 p.m., MU Ballroom.

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Larry Roper