Entries Tagged as 'Life on the Hill'

Student Experience Of Mental Health On Campus


By Scott Chasen

Aungelina Taglia came back from the library with a friend and ate a grilled cheese sandwich. She left some crumbs on the plate, a mechanism she uses to cope with her anorexia, but could feel an anxiety attack coming on. She typically didn’t eat late at night, a rule she’d broken that Monday.

With an anxiety attack imminent, Taglia did what she always does. She lied to her friend and told her she was going to hang out with someone else. She got in her car, an appropriately named Ford Escape Hybrid, and drove down 23rd street, past the QuikTrip on Haskell and onto K-10, in hopes of calming herself down.

Some 14 miles later the feelings of nausea had started to fade. Taglia pulled off the side of the road at the Lexington exit in DeSoto, turning around and making the trek back to Lawrence and texting a few friends before falling asleep. The drive, which she’d make again after waking up in the middle of the night, has become far too common in her life.

“I’ve only told my friends that I’ve done that once,” she says of the drive she makes three to four times a week.

Awareness of mental illness is something that is more present now than it has been in past years; more students are being diagnosed with mental health disorders and more are seeking help for the things they identify themselves. According to Christian Vargas, a licensed psychologist and outreach coordinator for the university Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), an estimated 10 percent of the KU student population will have gone through CAPS this year, continuing with a recent pattern of increase. Yet, even as more initiatives exist to help students suffering with mental illness on campus, many difficulties for those students, including the stigmatization of mental illness and lack of understanding from those on campus, remain.

When students like Taglia tell their friends what they’re dealing with, too often the response is one of surprise. Perhaps it shouldn’t be — according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness more than one in four young adults (between ages 18-25) have a diagnosable mental illness — but students often find their friends have their own internal definitions of what someone who is mentally ill should look like and are even skeptical about hearing they have a friend suffering from those same conditions.

That’s part of why Taglia, who has also been diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety, lies to her friends. She recognizes at least part of her hesitancy comes from the experiences of when she’s tried to open up, only for her friends to struggle to comprehend her feelings. As she recalls the memories, she bites her lip and forces a pained smile, fiddling with a hairband on her left wrist.

The first reaction that pops into her head is about one of her tattoos. On the underside of her right wrist is a semi-colon, a symbol representing perseverance and the movement against self-harm. When friends ask about it, she explains its meaning, only for them to ask who she knows that’s actually dealing with those issues, often times in a lighthearted tone that only adds to her frustration.

“It’s like people don’t think you can function … if you suffer from mental illness,” Taglia says. “They’re integrated with you every day in your daily life. You just don’t realize it.”


* * * * *

Nowadays, when she isn’t working one of four jobs on and off campus, Taglia spends much of her time focused on the topic of mental health and poverty. Her interests in the field originate from her high school experiences. By her freshman year, she was taking care of her mother, who was on several medications for mental health disorders. But Taglia was struggling too, and was hospitalized after she was found attempting suicide freshman year.

Two years later, it was her mother who was in the same scenario. Taglia was pulled out of class one day by three police officers and taken home, where she was told her mom had threatened suicide and locked herself in the house.

Taglia went up to her front door, eventually getting inside and calming her mother down. The two went to a hospital where, by the end of the day, her mother had been released. Reflecting on the experience, Taglia was baffled that given what had just transpired, her mother could so quickly be deemed “mentally competent” and cleared to go home. She wanted to understand the systems that were in place and why they were, in her mind, failing. Years later, it’s her continued dissatisfaction with the system that is at least part of the reason why she isn’t currently undergoing treatment.

For her, a big problem comes with the nature of how things are treated on campus. She says through her research she’s become aware of the resources to help students struggling with mental illness, but often times they only serve to help after something has gone wrong. In her view, this lack of preventative care creates a new problem for universities, leaving too many students who need immediate help from a potentially overextended staff.

“If they’re not in the preventative stage and they’re just in the after stage of trying to help people,” Taglia notes, “there’s going to be too much in the after stage to take care of.”

To be clear, this problem isn’t unique to KU. More and more, it’s happening nationwide. In fact, a recent petition launched by Jacqueline Basulto, a Columbia University alumna, asked for expanded mental-health services at 20 different universities, including Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Columbia. In February, her university responded, pledging to strengthen its mental health services, offering mental health training — a similar initiative to KU — and creating a mental health awareness week, according to a New York ABC affiliate.

Similarly, at KU wait times can be an issue. Though Vargas notes “urgent needs will be addressed the same day,” one student in particular, Christine Waisner, says she was unable to get help she needed within a time frame that worked for her.

Waisner, now president of the mental health awareness group Active Minds at KU, wasn’t always vocal in the mental health community. Diagnosed with depression, anxiety and an eating disorder, Waisner found it difficult to connect with friends about what she was going through. When she did reach out, the response was usually disappointing.

“So many people just blew it off or they’d be like, ‘Eat a hamburger,’ ” she says.

In her sophomore year, Waisner attempted to make an appointment at CAPS, but the then-one-month wait time was enough of a deterrent that she opted to go off campus. By the end of the year, she’d dropped out of school, taking the end of the spring and the summer to work through some of her difficulties.

Since then, others have identified a similar problem. Harrison Baker, who was on the Student Senate subcommittee for mental health in the 2015-16 school year, put together a report on some of the problems across various colleges, finding many campuses were understaffed and underfunded. “It’s not specific to KU,” Baker says. “But here’s what students across the nation are facing, and it’s no different here at KU.”

Through working with then-Student Senate vice president Miranda Wagner, Baker helped produce a bill to give that subcommittee more power, eventually turning into its own advisory committee with power over the mental health fee. As a chair for the committee, Baker pushed for a $9 increase to the student fee for CAPS to offset what he described as an “unacceptable” student-to-therapist ratio.

Entering 2016, Baker said, the ratio was about 2,200 students for every mental health professional. He said a more ideal number would be anywhere from about 500 to 1,000 students per professional, with the lower end of acceptability being about 1,500 to 1.

But as much as the issue seems it could be fixed by hiring more therapists, that doesn’t solve the underlying problems. It’s important for a university to be properly staffed to help students after a traumatic event, but it’s equally important to focus on helping students before they get to that point.

And that’s where students like Waisner try and pick up the slack.

Waisner returned to KU for her junior year in 2016, ready to get more involved on campus. She looked on the Rock Chalk Central website, picking out the group she now presides over, at least in part by chance. “I went on the database with all the organizations on it,” she said. “You know, it starts with A, so it was at the top of the list.”

From there Waisner rose through the ranks, tabling with the group a few times before becoming an event coordinator and eventually president. Among the projects she’s overseen has been an initiative to fight rising suicide rates nationwide by trying to put the national suicide prevention hotline number on the back of the student ID cards, in addition to the campus police and health services numbers.

The group also helps in other ways, meeting in person to provide members a forum where they can engage with others in conversations about mental health. Other events for Active Minds at KU include presentations from guest speakers as well as panels about various disorders, among other things.

“No matter what the event is,” she says, “it does tend to end up being a place where people are having conversations that they usually don’t have or don’t feel comfortable having.”

* * * * *

While Waisner lauds some of the progress that has been made on campus, she’d still like to see more of it. One area she says she feels passionate about is “mental health days” — allowing students to seek help for mental illness without being penalized for missing class. However, because of how the university is structured, the systems set up to help the students, like the Academic Achievement and Access Center (AAAC), aren’t able to mandate leniency for a student who misses class because of a mental-health related issue.

Deborah Meyer, associate director of the AAAC, says one of the biggest problems her office has in helping students can be working around a professor’s policy. “We know the importance of participation in the learning process,” she says. “If the instructor has that as part of their syllabus, we’re going to have a really difficult time justifying (that) you don’t have to come to class.”

That can be one roadblock for the office, which Meyer said has seen a recent influx in students with mental illness. In fact, over the last few years, she notes, mental illness has become the second most common reason students contact the AAAC behind only attention related-issues.

However, that increased awareness does not always mean students are fully willing to share their experiences with mental illness. If they opt not to disclose the specifics of their condition, it forces the AAAC to advocate for them while leaving the professors in the dark. Other students may simply choose to learn how to best advocate for themselves, rather than opening up about their difficulties to the office.

“I still believe there’s quite a social stigma around disability, period,” Meyer says. “Everything is on a continuum, but some students do not want to talk about having an attention deficit issue, they don’t want to talk about a learning disorder, they don’t want to talk about a visual or hearing impairment or they don’t want to talk about a mental health disability.”

That puts the professors in a difficult position. When things aren’t explicitly stated, it’s hard for many of them to know what the right actions to take are when presented with students who seem like they’re struggling. Likewise, some professors struggle to identify the signs of mental illness, but it isn’t necessarily for a lack of caring.

“They want to help,” Meyer says. “They’re not exactly sure how they might be able to.”

* * * * *

While some struggle to broach the subject of mental illness, others like Dan McCarthy, a KU journalism advisor, view the topic differently. He feels no such qualms engaging in a conversation about mental illness, even when a student hasn’t explicitly brought it into the conversation.

“Having experienced it, having had profound first-person primary experience with that situation, I have always been willing kind of just to blow through that,” he says. “I graduated a very depressed person and then proceeded to spend three years very, very depressed.”

Part of McCarthy’s experience in the educational system comes from what he describes as teaching by the lash — this idea that some institutions “are very celebratory about the ways in which they are cruel and vindictive and pointless, hurtful to students.” Simply, he detests the idea that students should be challenged unreasonably under the guise that the challenges are “getting you trained for the future world,” something he says can add to a college student’s stress level.

For that, McCarthy’s advising goes beyond just picking classes and getting a student in and out of the office as fast as possible. He’s always willing to engage in a deeper conversation, and has even made it a point to go through Mental Health First Aid training.

The Mental Health First Aid course is offered both on campus and at the Bert Nash Mental Health Community Center. It aims at helping people learn how to engage in a conversation with mental illness, as well as how to listen without passing judgment, assess if a student might be at risk to commit self harm and encourage appropriate help, according to its mission statement. The training fills a need, Waisner notes, for faculty members who are “sick and tired of watching their students struggle and not knowing how to help.”

Several advisors have already gone through this training. According to Abby Coffin, director of the Undergraduate Advising Center, 25 of the 27 people in her office had already gone through it before May, while the other two had signed up for a future session.

Still, the training isn’t mandated to this point, and it doesn’t appear it will be in the near future. Part of the problem is that there isn’t a single centralized power directing the collective group of advisors. “We technically all don’t have one boss,” McCarthy says.

Without a mandate, the responsibility to help students struggling with mental illness falls on the faculty, advisors, professors and those who interact with students. And while the early numbers for the Mental Health First Aid Training have been promising, both Waisner and Taglia said they’d like to see it become mandated.

As for future initiatives, there are other things in the works at KU. Among the newer steps being taken is the creation of a Peer Mental Health Educator group, which is currently being developed by CAPS. Vargas says the group will start in the fall and feature “10 diverse students” working 10 hours a week and “providing outreach presentations, peer support and active listening at several locations around campus,” among other things.

For the present, though, the same problems remain. There’s still the idea of how people think about mental illness and the challenge of simply getting to a point where more work is being done on the preventive side than in the after stages. And there’s still the idea of mental illness as a whole and the responses many students experience when they try to engage their friends in conversation about it.

“There’s a separate part of the community that I feel people shove the mentally ill in,” Taglia says. “They think of them as a whole separate part of society.”

She continues on before pausing a moment to gather her thoughts.

“The systems that are in place right now,” she says, “aren’t working.”

How It Feels… To Get Shot With A Taser


How It Feels2

By Shane Jackson

Caleb Dickey, a Security Forces Member stationed in Topeka, was shot with a taser gun last June in the security forces training room at Forbes Field. This is what it feels like.

For a brief moment, I consider the possibility that TSgt. Holloman is a mind reader.

Even though my exterior shows no fear, my mind is racing. I question if I’m really going to go through with this. So I’m surprised when Holloman, who is standing just a couple feet behind me, with a taser gun pointed directly at my back, asks me for reassurance.

“Are you sure you really want to go through with this?” Holloman asked.

The question shifts me back into focus. I know there is no backing out now. Not when I watched four of my buddies go through the same experience just the day before. Not when I may have to shoot one myself someday. I need to know what it feels like, so I shake my head yes.

After all, I had just spent about 30 minutes doing my stretches. My friends had advised me to do this. Nobody could describe the initial feeling, however.

Even though I sat in this very classroom and watched all four of them go though it, I couldn’t fathom what that initial shock was going to be like. Each of them was tasered once and had different reactions. Nearly every single one of them had shouted out profanity as they went to the ground. Not me though.

Still, it happened so quickly.

“Taser, taser, taser,” Holloman said.

Immediately after I hear “taser” for the third time, my body locks up. I suddenly can’t find my breath. For five seconds, my entire body is immobile. Or at least they told me it was five seconds; I swear it felt like 50.

SSgt. Thomas and SSgt. Romstedt bring me down to a blue mat, and I can’t hold back any longer. I let out a huge exhale just before the fifth second. I can breathe again, though my body burns in pain as if I just completed a 12-hour workout.

It wasn’t long afterward I began to gain movement. The classroom full of students watched me the entire time as I started to come back to normal. They are left with a visual image, while I have a more permanent reminder. Two scars remain engraved on my body from where the taser gun split in that short amount of time. I have a scar on my left shoulder, the other is just above my right butt cheek.

Several months have passed since I was shot with a taser, and I haven’t had to use mine at my job. But if that day ever does come, at least I will have a vivid idea of what happens when I fire that weapon off.

Heard on the Hill


HOTH crop

  • “I’m like espresso. I’m hot and bitter.”
  • “I wish kisses had caffeine, except then I’d be up all night.”
  • “EXCUSE ME, I have a shoebox full of frozens!”
  • “I’m metamorphosing into the most beautiful gay butterfly.”
  • “Yesterday at Arby’s…”
  • “Come to the wings and bingo thing with me…you vegetarian!”
  • “I’m gonna drink this wine out of the bottle because I’m troubled”
  • “Omg can I smoke with someone please? I’ll pay you I swear.”
  • “I wasn’t blacked out but it was a very dark shade of brown.”

How it Feels…To Fall From a 12-foot Ladder


By Evan Riggs

How It Feels2

One year ago, 20-year old Dylan Galliert had the scare of a lifetime when he fell from the top of a 12-foot ladder while he was working in Scott City, Kansas. This is what it felt like.

It was Wednesday, Feb. 17. I don’t remember the fall, or going to the intensive care Unit in Scott City. I just remember waking up in the airplane on the way to Wichita. Just a few hours earlier, I had fallen off the top of a 12-foot ladder, and broken two vertebrae in my back and two in my neck.

I was doing electrical work for the new Loves in Scott City, and I was running a pipe through the wall for a water heater. I hit my elbow on the trough that the wire goes through, and after scuffling on the ladder, I blacked out. They said I fell onto another electrical panel that almost ripped my ear off. It turned me around and threw me on a spool of wire, which is what broke the bones.

At first I felt more fear than pain because I was on morphine. But I was in a lot of pain when the morphine wore off three days later and I was coherent. My head was ringing, and I had a sharp shooting pain from my neck down to my back. It was definitely the worst pain I’ve ever felt.

I had very little feeling in my upper body, and I could hardly move anything. I was scared, wondering what was going to happen to me.

A day or so later, I was able to start rehab, but it was just the doctors moving my legs, toes and arms while I lay in bed. It felt like my body wasn’t even there and I could hardly move anything.

My rehab started a few days after I got to Wichita. The doctors started by moving my legs, toes and arms while I lay in bed. Then they moved me to the edge of my bed and tried to get me to be able to bend my knees again. I had to completely relearn everything. I had to re-learn how to walk, and how to grab things with my hands.

I almost threw up the first time I stood up. The rehab probably took four weeks, and I absolutely hated it. I hated rehab because it took so much out of me.

By the end of March I had finally returned home. I’m back working my old job, but I can’t climb tall ladders.  My right hand is still really tight, so sometimes I can’t even open it. And I still have no sensation from my left side to the bottom of my ribs.

Everything is going pretty well, I only wish I had full use of my hand.

Masculine Pinsecurity


By Matthew Clough

Nathan Clem has just signed an apartment lease for next year with his girlfriend, Rena Stair. After dating for nearly two years, they decided it was time to give living together a shot. He’s already been preparing for the move by collecting kitchen supplies, buying brand new bedsheets, even building a coffee table with one of his friends.

There’s just one more step he’s making in his preparations: getting a Pinterest account.

Clem, a junior from Baldwin City, Kansas, says his sister first showed him the app, and he thought it was a cool way to organize ideas, especially for planning home décor options and DIY projects. The app curates content for you from around the web based on topics you’ve indicated interest in. He was careful to not tell too many people he was using it, though. “I just thought, Pinterest is more for women and I didn’t want to seem too feminine,” he says. “It does carry a certain connotation.”

He’s not the only one who feels this way. According to a Pew Research Center study released at the end of 2016, 45 percent of online adult women use the virtual bulletin board site, while only 17 percent of online men do. This comes after statistics released by Pinterest that claim its male user base in the U.S. increased by 73 percent over the course of 2014.

Among college men, there’s a mix of reactions to Pinterest. Some say it’s a place for “arts and crafts bullshit” or “a platform for people who want to build personal fantasies.” But other men like Clem think it’s useful for everyone.

“Nathan came up to me, and he was kind of shy about it. He was like, ‘I don’t want to be weird or anything, but I think it’d be a really great idea if we shared house ideas with, like, Pinterest,’” Stair recalls. “At this point we had already decided we were going to live together next year,” Clem says. “I just thought it would be a good way to save ideas.”

Still, it’s clear that the concept of men using Pinterest has some taboo connotation. Simply searching “do men use Pinterest?” on Google yields a slew of articles about the site’s largely skewed demographics. But more interestingly, it also brings up the related searches “is Pinterest for guys too?” and “manteresting,” which is a website similar to Pinterest but with more sexy cars and hilarious videos, according to its Twitter. (Instead of “pinning” things to boards, you use manly nails.)

Perhaps more than anything, these searches convey an insecurity among men in using the virtual bulletin board. The most revealing thing about them is the perceived cultural necessity of assigning gender to things that are objectively genderless.

Hyunjin Seo, an associate professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Kansas who researches social media, says that the visual nature of Pinterest may be one reason more women are using it than men. “Think of the topics that more align with visual-based social media sites,” she says. “Fashion, food, travel and so on. There’s more women than men that share content on social media on these topics.”

The visual appearance of Pinterest itself may be part of the reason men shy away from it, although its design doesn’t necessarily cater directly to women. The site is plain white and upon logging in you’re greeted with a collage-like scattering of content. Manteresting, by comparison, looks essentially identical except for a black background. Houzz is a home design site that boasts slightly more male users than Pinterest; its design, like its content, is more architectural.

Instagram is interesting in that its interface is entirely visual-driven, yet according to Seo, the proportions of male and female users are very similar. Although women still outnumber men on the platform – 58 to 42 percent as of 2016, the gap is nowhere near as wide as it was several years ago, Seo said.

Some college men maintain that appearance has nothing to do with it. Conan Lee is a freshman from Overland Park, Kan., who studies illustration and uses the site for inspiration. “I have a sci-fi board and a fantasy board, for stuff like character design and concept art – ideas for drawing,” he says. Another student, Murphy Smith from Westwood, Kan., does not use the site but says “If I want something that seems to be similar to Pinterest, I just go to Reddit.” That site is significantly less structured in appearance than Pinterest.



Regardless of appearance or perceptions, Clem remains adamant in the value of Pinterest. He and Stair have been organizing apartment decoration ideas and projects to take on together over the summer while they prepare for the big move. “I think people should use it no matter what society thinks,” he says.



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