Through February: WSU display explores mental health

By Nella Letizia, WSU Libraries

James-WhitbreadPULLMAN, Wash. – In the United States, 43.8 million adults experience mental illness each year, yet it remains a topic of secrecy and stigma for many, including on college campuses.

During February, Washington State University Libraries and Health and Wellness Services are sponsoring a display, “Minds Matter: Advocating for Mental Health,” in the Terrell Library atrium. It examines mental health, Mental Health First Aid training, suicide prevention and campus/local resources.

“All library employees working in public services see hundreds of students per day, whether by interacting with them at the reference or circulation desks or just passing them in the library,” said reference librarian Erin Hvizdak, the display’s co-curator. “I wanted to show our solidarity with other student support services on campus.”

Creating a NAMI chapter

WSU junior James Whitbread understands more than most how one life-changing event can affect a person’s mental health. Last year, the math major from Colville, Wash., learned his mother had early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

WSU’s Victoria Braun, left, James Whitbread and Erin Hvizdak.

“There was one main thing that helped me,” he said. “I realized that I could either wallow in my own self-pity or I could deal with it head on, help people and actually make a difference through my situation.”

He discovered the National Alliance on Mental Illness ( and its clubs on college campuses. Campus chapters provide support for a vulnerable group: according to NAMI, 1 in 5 youth ages 13-18 have or will have a serious mental illness and nearly three-quarters of mental health conditions emerge by age 24. (See other NAMI statistics at

With Whitbread as founder and president, WSU started a NAMI student chapter in the fall to hold lectures, workshops and activities for the university community. The chapter meets 5:30-6:30 p.m. every other Tuesday in Smith CUE 407. Find details at

“I want this club to become a staple of destigmatization of mental health problems, a place where people can talk openly about what they are going through and create awareness for the prevalence of mental health issues,” Whitbread said.

Mental Health First Aid

Started in 2001 in Australia, the Mental Health First Aid course, like regular first aid or CPR, gives people skills to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. The training is crucial at universities and colleges, given that students are balancing academic, social and job responsibilities away from family, friends and other support – often for the first time.

Victoria Braun, emotional health coordinator for WSU Health and Wellness Services and the display’s co-curator, said the incidence of mental illness and mental health problems in higher education is greater than in the past for several reasons.

First, more people are seeking degrees, so colleges have higher attendance rates than ever. Second, colleges have much higher populations of nontraditional students – veterans, older adults and transfers – which have higher rates of mental health problems. Finally, students must cope with a higher financial burden, increased competition in the global marketplace and a constantly changing communication and technology landscape.

Braun estimated that about 100 individuals have taken Mental Health First Aid from her this academic year. The interactive sessions run eight hours, covering risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems, impacts and common treatments. Certification must be renewed every three years.

Upcoming sessions will be 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday, Feb. 15, Tuesday, March 22, and Tuesday, April 12, all in the Student Recreation Center 144. For details, visit

“I’ve had at least five people email or call me to share how they were in a situation where they were required to employ their training,” Braun said. “Knowing that what we’ve done has already had some impact in the community is really heartwarming for me to hear.”

Suicide prevention and resources

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42,773 suicides were recorded in 2014 in the United States. Suicide was the second leading cause of death among people ages 15-34, including college-age students, accounting for 11,648 deaths in 2014. (See

Braun said her primary goal will be to bring “gatekeeper” training to WSU as a way of preventing suicide on campus. Gatekeepers are those with high student contact – academic advisers, resident advisers, student leaders and others – who may be in a position to see signs of a mental illness developing.

Gatekeeper training will involve learning how to identify suicide warning signs, how to ask someone if they are feeling suicidal and how to effectively navigate the situation.

“WSU has an incredibly hardworking and dedicated staff of counselors and a wealth of resources for students to utilize if they are in crisis,” Braun said. “That said, we need do better in our efforts to prevent suicide, promote social connectedness and teach healthy coping skills to students.”

She advises that in case of an emergency where an individual poses an immediate threat to him/herself or others, call 911. Other mental health resources include the following:

• WSU Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS;, 509-335-4511 during normal business hours. For after hours, weekends and holidays, contact the CAPS Crisis Line at 509-335-2159.
• National and local 24-hour crisis lines include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255; and Pullman’s Palouse River Counseling (509-334-1133).
• AWARE Network (; 509-335-5757) is a resource for faculty, TAs and others to share concerns about a student’s emotional or psychological well-being, physical health or academic performance with colleagues who can help.


Erin Hvizdak, WSU Libraries reference librarian, 509-335-9514,
James Whitbread, NAMI on Campus WSU founder and president, 509-335-4918,
Victoria Braun, WSU Health and Wellness Services’ emotional health coordinator, 509-335-8998,
Nella Letizia, WSU Libraries public relations/communication coordinator, 509-335-6744,



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