By Joel Hall
On Wednesday, members of Clayton State University's counseling staff came armed with information brochures, promotional materials, massage chairs, and food -- all for the purpose of breaking the stigma associated with mental health and getting services to students who may otherwise be too shy to seek them.
The James M. Baker University Center's "main street" was lined with helpful information on physical and mental health, counseling services, and domestic violence help, in observance of World Mental Health Day, which was Wednesday. Mental health and wellness professionals from Clayton and Henry counties were on site, giving free depression screenings, massages, and referring individuals to off-campus services.
Elaina Chance, assistant director of outreach and prevention for Clayton State, said the event had expanded since the school first observed World Mental Health Day last year.
"Last year, we did World Mental Health Day with screenings, and the year before, we had an information fair, advertising different mental health services in Henry and Clayton counties," said Chance. "This year is a combination of the two."
Chance said that this year, the university counseling staff had combined the event with Domestic Violence Awareness Month and partnered with several student organizations to bring mental health and domestic violence awareness programs to the campus throughout the month of October.
One of those events is "Domestic Violence: 101," a town hall meeting on the subject, that will take place in the University Center on Oct. 17, from 7:30-9:30 p.m. Chance said targeting the mental health issues associated with domestic violence is important at Clayton State University, due to it's large number of non-traditional students.
"Every semester, we have about two students that are in an actively abusive relationship," said Chance. "We have dating violence, as well as people who are married, so we see a combination of the two."
Christine Smith, director of counseling services, said that 50 percent of college students feel depression at some point in their college career that prevents them from functioning properly. She added that depression-related suicide was the second largest killer of college students, next to car accidents.
"In order to get students who wouldn't normally come to our office, we do things like this," she said.
Clayton State freshman, Corianne Turnage, said the observance was a way of helping students get things "off their shoulders."
"This is a good event, because people who can't express themselves to anybody can get help," said Turnage. "Everybody has different problems, but depression ... anybody can have it. I'm happy with this because some people need this and don't realize how serious depression is."
Shiraz Karaa, assistant director of clinical practices at the university, said that events like this one help break down the "taboos" of mental health.
"A lot of people think that you are crazy, if you are getting mental health," said Karaa. "They see us, and they see that we are people like them. Once we do the education piece, they can feel more at ease with accepting services."