Mind Matters workshops encourage discussion about mental health


CW/ Keely Brewer

Jeffrey Kelly, Contributing Writer

College is a complicated and stressful balancing act for many students. The University of Alabama’s Counseling Center understands how stressful it can be, so they work enthusiastically to equip students with tools to address mental health concerns, like with the Mind Matters Workshop Series.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2017, young adults ages 18-25 years old showed the highest prevalence of any mental illness at 25.8 percent. Also, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health problems on college campuses.

Greg Vander Wal, interim executive director of The University of Alabama’s Counseling Center, said the Mind Matters Workshop Series initially came about out of a desire to provide proactive and preventative outreach events for students.

“But also, it’s to address and give students the opportunity to learn about healthy coping skills and approaches to common concerns college students have,” Vander Wal said. “We wanted that to be available kind of throughout the year in a place and time that is accessible for students, so that was kind of the beginning of the Mind Matters Workshop Series.”

The workshops are held in the Ferguson Student Center from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at least once a month.

Vander Wal said the workshops focus on five topics that are either of concern for students or skills that students need in order to be successful in college, such as adjusting to college, stress management, building resiliency, healthy relationships and general or academic anxiety.

Patrick Lewis, a staff therapist at the Counseling Center, led a Mind Matters workshop that focused on healthy relationships and assertive communication on March 19. The workshop also informed students about the many services the Counseling Center provides, such as group and individual counseling.

Lewis discussed what a healthy relationship is and how to maintain and strengthen a healthy, personal, professional or romantic relationship. He also pointed out how to differentiate between toxic and healthy traits in relationships.

“We don’t recognize [our negative traits],” Lewis said. “We are so used to speaking to people a certain kind of way, and we don’t think about how words can hurt or if we could say something that could turn this potential argument into actually a conversation where we solve what the problem was.”

At the end of the seminar, students left feeling more informed about how to actively create healthy relationships and about what the Counseling Center offers.

“It was interesting,” said Cameron Bobbitt, a freshman majoring in psychology. “I was interested in the mental health aspect [of the seminar] since I am a psychology major. I thought it was informative.”

Vander Wal said one of the Counseling Center’s primary goals is to provide students with useful information about common issues.

“I would say if you can walk away with one or two concrete steps you could take to improve your mental health and well-being in those areas, that’s wonderful,” Vander Wal said.

Vander Wal said he wants to normalize conversations about mental health and well-being and make those conversations more accessible for students by showing them that the University holds these workshops where they can openly talk about things like anxiety or having trouble adjusting.

“I would say to a student that might be hesitant to attend a session, ‘I understand that, but I’d give it a try. It’s a way to kind of get yourself into a conversation,’” Vander Wal said.

The Counseling Center’s last workshop for Mind Matters of the semester will be on Tuesday, April 16, in room 3115 of the Ferguson Student Center from 6-7:30 p.m., and it will cover anxiety and test anxiety. For more information about the Counseling Center, and for a list of its resources, visit the website at https://counseling.sa.ua.edu/.

“I would love everyone to walk away having more knowledge about the resources here on campus and how to access them,” Vander Wal said.