SOS Public Health and Utah Asia Campus Collaboration: Mental Health Week

A Need for Mental Health Campaigns on University Campuses

If you attended a college or university, you may understand the mental health struggles that students face. Factors such as academic/social/financial stress, uncertainty about the future, and lack of sleep contribute to increased mental health challenges among students. Throw in a dash of COVID and a sprinkle of language and cultural barrier to the mix, and stress increases exponentially, especially for students studying abroad. Students who experience high stress are prone to developing depression, anxiety, and eating disorders among other mental health challenges.

A 2020 study done in France found that 42.8% of students (nearly 30,000 individuals) reported having at least one mental health disorder (Wathelet, Marielle, et al, 2020). Another 2020 study in the U.S. revealed that 48.14% of students suffer from a moderate-to-severe level of depression, and 38.48% suffer from a moderate-to-severe level of anxiety (Wang, Xiaomei, et al, 2020). In South Korea, the mental health and wellness app Gidep, shared that 25% of Koreans experience mental health concerns.

In addition to factors that cause mental health challenges, the stigma surrounding mental health often deters individuals from seeking help. Gidep also shared that only 9.6% of people in South Korea report seeking professional help.

Realizing the importance of mental health awareness, former Masters in Public Health (MPH) student, Greta Gokey took it upon herself to address the issue for her own university campus in South Korea.

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Mind U: Mental Health Week Background

How Mind U began

In the Fall of 2019, Ms. Gokey, implemented Mind U: Mental Health and Wellness Week at University of Utah Asia Campus (UAC) for her graduate program practicum. This Utah Asia Campus event brought awareness to campus faculty and students regarding mental health challenges that the university community faces. The event allowed students to connect with one another while building a small community of support. Ms. Gokey developed the Mind U: Mental Health and Wellness week to be sustained on campus for future years to come.

Unfortunately, when COVID-19 struck full force, Mental Health Week faced many hurdles. COVID restrictions made event implementation difficult as campus navigated new policies to keep the community safely socially distanced. Such changes on the University of Utah Asia Campus impacted students.

The University of Utah Asia Campus (UAC) has a population of over 400 students (~85% Korean, ~15% International). The international students mostly live on campus in the dorms while the Korean students live both on and off campus. Due to COVID, UAC implemented online classes which left many UAC students isolated with little opportunity to interact with their classmates.

Such isolation added to the difficulties some students already faced. According to the 2021 SOS Public Health Mind U Survey, 42.9% of students reported having experienced a mental health challenge.

2021 SOS Public Health Mental Health and Wellness Survey

How ‘Mind U: Mental Health Week’ was revived

In 2021, SOS Public Health became aware of student mental struggles and sought to support students at the UAC. SOS Public Health recommended continuing the Mind U program and took up the torch to re-ignite Mental Health Week in collaboration with UAC and Ms. Gokey. In addition, SOS Public Health added practicum opportunities for UAC Public Health graduate students to sustain MindU Mental Health Week. In October 2021, Mind U: Mental Health and Wellness Week was brought back to the UAC campus. The following will chronicle the details of such an event.

Mind U: Mental Health and Wellness Week

Although May is technically designated as ‘National Mental Health Month‘ (in the U.S.), mental health requires regular attention and care. In addition to this, being an international university, UAC has high student turnover each semester. For these reasons, the UAC and SOS Public Health program organizers felt it necessary to implement events for both the fall and spring semesters.

SOS Public Health is currently in the planning stages for the Spring 2022 Mental Health Week activities, but for now, let’s talk about what went down this past fall. Mind U: Mental Health and Wellness Week fell on October 12-15 in the Fall 2021 semester. Because Monday, October 11th was a holiday, the event occurred over a 4-day period. The event also coincided with UAC’s midterm schedule which afforded some pros and cons for scheduling.

Mind U focused on two main events with a few smaller stress-release activities included. Such activities encouraged community building throughout the week. To accommodate for COVID restrictions and to include students living both on and off campus, the main Mind U events were held in a hybrid format (in-person and online via Zoom). The smaller activities were scheduled in waves to meet South Korea and UAC’s social distancing policy.

The event details are as follows:

Tiding Tuesday, Big Event #1

For the Mind U Tiding Tuesday Event, the program coordinators invited three speakers to answer student questions about mental health in a panel discussion. The speakers included:

  • Incheon Global Campus Mental Health Counselor, Dr. Jan Lee
  • UAC Program Coordinator and Mental Health Certified, Lauren Poindexter
  • Singer/Songwriter, Podcaster, Illustrator, and Creator of Camp Clarity Women’s Retreats, Norma Jean Belenky
Mental Health Week: Tiding Tuesday Panelists

During the two weeks leading up to the event, students submitted questions related to mental health via a Google survey form. This strategy allowed students to submit questions anonymously. The inclusion of speakers with varying levels of mental health certification and backgrounds brought diversity to the Q&A responses. This diversity helped students learn about different approaches to mental health.

Mental Health Care Kits were distributed to students at each event check in.

The Tiding Tuesday event had a low RSVP count prior to the event. However, the final attendance surpassed the RSVP count by 392% for in-person and online events combined. In an on-going mental health survey implemented by the program coordinators, many students, as well as staff and faculty expressed gratitude for this particular event.

Woke Wednesday, Small Event #1

The Woke Wednesday event was hosted by UAC’s Student Leadership Consultants. The Student Leadership Consultants host an event called Café U every week on campus to bring the student community together to discuss specific topics. The UAC leadership graciously worked with our coordinators to focus on mental health stigma for Café U during Mental Health Week.

Student leader, Eunice Kim, put together an excellent presentation on mental health stigma. Through Ms. Kim’s guidance, this event provided a safe space for students (and staff and faculty) to participate in an open discussion about mental health stigma. The event began with a collective group discussion. Then, Ms. Kim broke the group into smaller teams to discuss a specific mental health stigma-related topics in more detail.

Cafe U: Mental Health Stigma Discussion (implemented in person and online)

Café U events typically turn out about 7 student attendees each week on average due to busy student schedules and COVID restrictions. As with the Tiding Tuesday, RSVPs for the Woke Wednesday event were quite low (6 RSVPs). However, the Woke Wednesday event turned out a 314% increase in attendees on the day of the event for in-person and Zoom attendance cobmined. Such a great turnout seemed to reflect the importance of open discussions about mental health.

Thoughtful Thursday, Small Event #2 + Big Event #2

Thoughtful Thursday included two events: (1) a lantern making activity and (2) an open mic night.

For lantern making, students gathered in a shared space on campus to craft paper lanterns. This activity provided students an opportunity to connect with their fellow classmates. The event also gave students a break from their rigorous midterm study sessions.

Mental Health Week: DIY Lanterns made by students.

Mental Health Week coordinators prompted students to write a mental health challenge that they experienced (if they were comfortable doing so). Then, these lanterns were used to “shed light” on mental health challenges the community faces during the Thursday evening event.

The evening event titled, Open Mic Light the Night, brought students together for a more intimate gathering. The event opened with a few student performances followed by an open mic session where students could take the stage and share their mental health experiences.

Mental Health Week: Student Speaking at Open Mic Light the Night

As with previous events, the event had a very few RSVPs for both events combined. Fortunately, 259% more students showed up to the actual event than had RSVPed! Students reported that they enjoyed the Thoughtful Thursday evening event. Several students even expressed interest in performing or speaking at the 2022 Fall Mental Health Week Open Mic Night Event.

Feelgood Friday, Small Event #3

To close out the week’s events, UAC and SOS Public Health hosted a chill get together for students to destress with some stress-free slime making and slushies. UAC’s wonderful Program Coordinator, Molly Kinder, led this slime making event.

Mental Health Week: Community building through stress-free slime-making

Students reported really enjoying this event. This event offered another opportunity for students to connect with one another and make new friends.

Feelgood Friday attendance increased 208% above the RSVP count. The overall lower participation rate for this event was due, in part, to many students traveling for the weekend. However, the event turnout still came out excellently for an in-person event in the midst of COVID.

SOS Public Health’s continued support for Mental Health Awareness on campus

Community support is important for individuals, especially during COVID. Support is especially important for students living in a world with COVID while studying abroad in an unfamiliar country.

When asked if Mental Health Week had any value for this international campus community, 97.1% of students expressed that the Mind U Events offered a level of value.

SOS Public Health and UAC are dedicated to the continuation of Mental Health Week on not only at Utah Asia Campus, but also at other universities within South Korea.

How can you get involved with improving Mental Health Awareness on school campuses?

  1. If you would like to implement a Mental Health Awareness Event at your university or educational campus in Korea, email PublicHealth@SouthofSeoul.Net for more details.
  2. Are you certified in Mental Health? Become a speaker for our Mental Health Week Q&A Panel. Contact PublicHealth@SouthofSeoul.Net for more details.
  3. Become a community partner. Contact PublicHealth@SouthofSeoul.Net for more details.
  4. Become a sponsor. Contact PublicHealth@SouthofSeoul.Net for more details.
  5. Are you a UAC MPH student interested in Mental Health research? Apply for a practicum with SOS Public Health!

Special Thanks and Recognition

SOS Public Health would like to recoginze the efforts of all UAC volunteers and participants involved in bringing togeher the UAC community during the Mind U: Mental Health and Wellness Week. This event wouldn’t have been possible without the help of our amazing Mental Health Week Volunteer Team. Special Thanks go out to:

  • Greta Gokey, Mind U: Mental Health and Wellness Week Founder and Consultant
  • Randy McCrillis, UAC Dean of Students
  • Molly Kinder, UAC Program Coordinator
  • Mind U Q&A Panelists:
    • Jan Lee, IGC Mental Health Counselor
    • Lauren Poindexter, UAC Program Coordinator
    • Norma Jean Belenky, Singer/Songwriter, Podcaster, Illustrator, and Creator of Camp Clarity Women’s Retreats
  • UAC Graduate Student Volunteers:
    • Zahra Alsafi
    • Elise Gertsch Bellows
    • Ellena Kim
  • UAC Undergraduate Student Volunteers, MCs & Presenters:
    • Kenzi Snowden
    • Maia Jang
    • Joel Atkinson
    • Clara Shin
    • Eunice Kim
    • Lani Anela Young
    • Ina Choi
    • Song Yeong Chae
    • Namjoo Choi
    • Sooyeon Choi
    • Jihyun Park
    • Jamimae Clark
    • Amin Suharwoto
    • Sang Hyeon (Vincent) Choi
    • Gun Sumlut
    • Manolo Gatmaitan
    • Quinn Catolos
    • UAC Student Leadership Consultants