Putting Mental Health First
By Tatiana Sanchez
The Cowell Center is marking Mental Health Awareness Month with recently expanded services for students and a series of events, including a student film detailing the stress of being undocumented.
One student said they never went to Disneyland as a kid—the trip posed too much of a risk for their undocumented parents. What if they were pulled over and detained by immigration authorities?
Another reflected on the pressures of being undocumented at Santa Clara and providing for their family. There was no room for mistakes or failures. Succeeding wasn’t optional.
With these experiences came a lifetime of stress, anxiety and guilt, the students said.
A documentary film by Cowell Center Student Ambassador Jake Wexler ’21, puts their stories center stage, highlighting the silent struggles of undocumented students and those in mixed-status families, in which only one or a few family members have obtained legal status in the United States.
“It’s very much from a do-or-die lens,” Wexler said. “The way I wanted the film to go was to highlight difficulties but show the strength of these individuals coming out of those difficulties.”
The film titled, “Undocumented” will debut May 21 to mark Mental Health Awareness Month.
Wexler is among eight student ambassadors and several staff members at Cowell shining a light on mental health resources through a variety of events, including discussions on food insecurity, emotional competency, and transformational growth. Their hope is to encourage more students to turn to Cowell to address their mental health needs.
This year’s Mental Health Awareness month follow a tumultuous year marked by tragedy and isolation, in which many Americans learned about the value of prioritizing their mental health.
Cowell has responded by tripling its services, according to outreach coordinator and suicide prevention specialist Nicole Banks. These newest efforts include group therapy sessions and workshops like the Students of Color Support and Empowerment Group and Body Positive SCU.
Wexler also launched The CCSA Podcast in February, where students can learn about mental health resources and hear from peers navigating their own mental health journeys.
The issue is personal for Wexler, who said he has struggled with severe anxiety and stress since he was about 10 years old. That led to bouts of depression and suicidal thoughts in high school and college, he said. Though at first he refused to seek help, Wexler said he ultimately reached a breaking point and sought therapy.
“From there, I was like, ‘I never want anyone to get to the point to where I was at,’” he said. “I now had a new perspective on how to help others and how to communicate with others who go through that. I spoke to my therapist about how I wanted to make a mental health film and I want to do all this and that. And she was like, let me get you in contact with Cowell Center Student Ambassadors.”
Cowell Student Ambassador Amana Liddell has been preparing since last month to amplify the center’s events on social media as a way to reach out to students, many of whom spend most of their time online.
“One of the biggest things about social media is you’re meeting students somewhere that they’re already willing to and wanting to be and then giving them information in a way that is important to them or applicable to them,” she said. “I think it's also really important for us as students to better understand each other. So even if someone’s not struggling with anxiety personally, their roommate, someone in one of their classes may be. That’s still important information for them to be getting just to know more about what other people are going through and really raise that awareness.”
Banks said she hopes the lessons learned during the pandemic aren’t forgotten. Too often people treat mental health as something to deal with later, she said.
“We push it to the backburner,” Banks said. “We ignore it. Even though there’s pain in our bodies, in our minds, we just proceed on. My hope is in doing this big awareness event, that we will really help the campus understand the importance, that they will find one thing that they can get connected to, so that the memory isn't so short of why focusing on your mental health, on your self-care is absolutely critical.”