On Wednesday, Oct. 11, the LIFE (Linking in Faith and Education) department at Pasco Hernando State College held a summit titled “Breaking Barriers and Building Bridges: Faith Communities and Mental Health Support.” The various panels met in Building B on PHSC’s Spring Hill campus on 19. As the description implies, the meeting was to help raise awareness and lessen the stigma surrounding mental illness.
The morning began with pastries and an introduction from Associate Director of LIFE, Dr. Micheal Jones, who also moderated the meeting throughout with various questions. One panel was from the student life department at the college, and they discussed what mental health initiatives PHSC provides for students who are suffering from these afflictions.
“A lot of the things that student life has put out as far as initiatives that help students with their mental health challenges is just first of all opening the door for the conversation,” Spring Hill Campus Student Life and Leadership Coordinator Joseph Conte said. “I think that’s one of the biggest keys is opening that door, letting students know we are here for them, and that yes, we don’t have all the answers, but we have resources who can get those answers.”
These measures for aiding students include mental health packets, habit trackers, holding “wellness Wednesdays” on the last Wednesday of every month, presentations on teenage mental health, and soon-to-be doodle therapy notebooks. Sandre Lyons, the Student Life and Leadership Coordinator for the Brooksville campus, noted that one of the instructors on her campus allows students to make their own Zen gardens in an effort to help relieve the stresses of day-to-day life.
There are also more official programs that the college uses to help students. The Student Assistance Program (SAP) is not unlike an employee assistance program in the workplace. This allows students multiple free sessions with a therapist to have these types of conversations and “to be heard.” The Bobcat Pantry is a service that is not directly associated with mental health, but it provides students with food when they lack funds. PHSC is not the only organization to provide such a program, as there are other food pantries around the county that help individuals in need.
A panel of faith leaders from around the community spoke on Wednesday to discuss how they are striving to help others in these capacities. The group, which consisted of Pastor Joe Santerelli, Pastor Richard Rossiter, Rabbi Jennifer Golberg, and Reverend Chance Martinez Colon, touched on how they can be more gracious and understanding towards others while avoiding being “siloed” within their own religious communities. “Most of [Jesus’] ministry was not at the synagogue; it was done out among the people,” Pastor Santorelli said.
Besides the panels that spoke at the summit, individual speakers such as Dr. Linda Chamberlain came forward to perform a “mindfulness technique.” She is a retired former staff member of the college and wrote a book titled “Practicing Psychotherapy.” Dr. Chamberlain recounted a story to the audience about when she had a panic attack while working as a psychotherapist. After her anxiety “hit her like a truck,” she got serious about her mental health. She used her story to recommend that community members not “sit on that kind of stuff.”
This initiative by the LIFE Department has found a variety of partners. Seven organizations not only support PHSC’s cause: NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Hernando, Temple Beth David, True Victory, United Church of Christ, Florida Health Hernando County, Growth Recovery Counseling, and BayCare Behavioral Health. Further displaying their commitment, these groups were all represented at Wednesday’s summit.
There are many more events going on in the community being held by organizations like NAMI. They hosted “NAMI Walks” at Tom Varn Park on Saturday and they will be hosting their own mental health summit on Nov. 14.