By BRIANNA KWASNIK
For second semester UT sophomore, human performance exercise recreation and leadership major, Deepali Puri, the motivation to take over and reinvent the initiative of student organization, Active Minds, is personal.
In Fall of 2014, Puri was referred to the Dickey Health and Wellness Center after a student of concern form was filled out for her.
It was a time in her life where she was experiencing a lot of stressors: being from Connecticut, she was far away from home, struggling to cope with the loss of two important people in her life: a friend from high school who had commit suicide during their senior year and her godfather the during her freshman year of college. Experiencing back-to-back losses within the course of a year didn’t allow her sufficient time to grieve.
“I had a pile of baggage that kept piling on and on and I didn’t deal with it the best possible way,” Puri said.
On top of personal struggles, Puri was also struggling academically. She was feeling trapped in a major she didn’t necessarily like, and as a result, found herself on academic probation and on the verge of failing out.
Puri was experiencing something many students tend to encounter during their first year on campus: feeling pressure from family to go one way with her major, while wanting to go in an entirely different direction.
“Even though I was seeing a counselor at the wellness center, I wasn’t being entirely truthful,” she said. “I was tired of putting on that mask that I was happy and everything was fine.”
The buildup of pressure, as Puri described, made it feel like everything was going down hill.
Eventually, she snapped.
After a night of having too much to drink, Puri expressed to friends she was with that she had a plan to commit suicide.
Fortunately, her friends knew how to handle the situation by refusing to leave her side the entire night and staying with her until she was sober. They reinforced to Puri how much she was loved, that she was needed here, and that she was wanted here.
Once in a clear frame of mind, a friend, Brianna Mooney, put the situation in perspective, telling her, “there are cancer patients fighting for their life, and here you are wanting to end it all.”
Monnie Wertz, chair of the Student of Concern Committee, stresses the importance of friends intervening in a situation where they feel one of their friends might be experiencing suicidal ideations.
“Encouraging a friend to go see a counselor, offering to go with them, sometimes even making the appointment can provide support and encouragement for students who are struggling,” she said.
Wertz cautions students that might feel that they are protecting their friend by not revealing that they are struggling with suicide by remaining silent, as these students need assistance to which most of us are unqualified to provide the level of care and support they require.
For Puri, finding out that a medical withdrawal process was an option came as a relief. She had known that she needed the time to focus on her mental health and getting herself well. However, with only two weeks remaining in the fall semester, her parents were at first reluctant for her to withdraw.
Would it be possible for her to stick it out for two more weeks?
Sticking it out two more weeks came with the added risk of academic dismissal. However, with a medical withdrawal, academic probation would not be held against her — it would be as if the semester didn’t count at all.
She decided to withdraw.
Her slate was wiped clean, and she would be able to start fresh when she felt ready to return.
Her return came during the spring 2016 semester.
After attending a semester at community college, Puri performed well academically and felt she was better able to work, focus, and ultimately, be engaged.
“It was like a fog was lifted,” she said. “I didn’t have that sadness anymore.”
Coming back to campus, Puri was determined to refocus Active Minds Initiative as an organization. She wanted to prove to students firsthand that they, too, can overcome their struggles with mental health. Having come from the lowest point and pulling herself out of the fog through therapy, support groups and monitored medication, she felt secure with the coping mechanisms she had developed. If she did have a trigger, she would know how to handle it.
Having this knowledge of symptoms and coping mechanisms to deal with varying triggers is something that she hopes to spread to others through Active Minds.
Active Minds’ main focus as an organization is to break down the stigma that still heavily surrounds mental health. The group emphasizes overall mental wellness, making people aware the symptoms of depression and anxiety, and where to go from there, with what resources are available to them on campus.
The first meeting of the semester will take place on Monday, Sept. 19 in Sykes Chapel room 107A at 8:30 p.m. Those looking for more information, or to become a member of Active Minds, can contact Puri at email@example.com.
To respond to a situation where someone is currently contemplating suicide or experiencing depression, the counseling center is a beneficial resource available to students. In emergency situations, the resources can be accessed through campus safety after hours. A counselor is always on call. For more immediate intervention, call The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay by dialing 2-1-1, or call 9-1-1.
Brianna Kwasnik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org