Students learn about mental health first aid


Sean Moundas, a psychologist at Pitt’s University Counseling Center, speaks to students about skills needed to recognize and help someone experiencing a mental health crisis at the Be the Difference: An Intro to Mental Health First Aid event in the Cathedral of Learning Wednesday night. (Photo by Issi Glatts | Assistant Visual Editor)

By Cassidy Power | For The Pitt News

“How can I help?” and “How do I start a conversation?” are questions Sean Moundas, a psychologist at the University Counseling Center, gets asked a lot when it comes to mental health.

“Over half of those with mental health challenges go untreated,” Moundas said.

At the Be The Difference: An Intro to Mental Health First Aid event, hosted by the American Medical Students Association and the University of Pittsburgh Student Health Advisory Board, about 50 students listened Wednesday night as Moundas described mental health resources available at Pitt and ways to help family and friends.

Moundas said knowing how to recognize shifts in mental health is an important first step toward preventing more severe problems. He recommended keeping track of any changes in routine and letting friends who aren’t acting normally know that they have someone to rely on. He also emphasized the importance of directing those who are struggling with mental health issues to the proper resources.

“If you’re doing first aid, you’re not prescribing medication, you’re not doing surgery — your role is to help them get connected to professionals,” Moundas said.

Moundas brought up the University Counseling Center as a resource, emphasizing that it is free and available by phone at all times. Students can call or walk into the Counseling Center and receive same-day services for immediate help, while long-term counseling may have a waiting period.

The Counseling Center has faced criticism from some students, who cite long wait times and the center going from October 2016 to March 2017 without having a full-time psychiatrist employed. But Pitt says the Counseling Center has made efforts to improve its services.

Sophomore neuroscience major Anjali Kumar said she would have used the Counseling Center as a resource earlier if she had known the extent of its services.

“I honestly didn’t know you could call [the Counseling Center even when school isn’t in session] or if someone you know was having problems,” Kumar said.

At Pitt, the Counseling Center provides three main types of support. Individual therapy is short-term and can be for a specific issue or to help a student identify resources outside of the University system.

Relationship therapy is also available and isn’t limited to couples. It can also help students who are concerned about someone in their life and aren’t sure how to best help. Additionally, the Counseling Center has more than 10 groups that meet weekly and discuss shared experiences or concerns.

Benedicta Olonilua, a sophomore psychology major, said she is grateful for the Counseling Center. She thinks the resources are especially important for premed students who may be neglecting their mental health.

“There’s a lot of things going on and a lot of things to juggle, and mental health and self care may not be at the forefront,” she said.

Another resource Moundas mentioned that provides immediate aid is resolve, a crisis helpline not associated with the University that students can call at (888) 796-8226, any hour of the day. He said advice and counseling can be given over the phone, or someone on staff can provide in-person support without contacting authorities.

Moundas also directed students to Mental Health First Aid — an organization that certifies individuals for responding to mental health challenges — especially if they are concerned about a friend or family member. The certification takes about eight hours, is good for three years and can be taken at numerous times each month.

“Mental Health First Aid seeks to change the number of people who go untreated,” Moundas said.

Moundas wanted students to know they shouldn’t be apprehensive about going to the Counseling Center. Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner said that as of 2016, 2,500 students use the Counseling Center annually.

“A lot of people can be experiencing symptoms for the first time — it can be confusing, it can be scary,” Moundas said.

What’s most important, according to Moundas, is to reach out and provide support for those suffering from mental health problems.

“The goal is to convey a sense of hope to those who may feel hopeless,” he said.

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