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Sigma Nu Launches New Mental Health Education Program

Updates from Lexington

According to data compiled by the National Alliance on Mental Illness and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year. Three-quarters of all chronic mental health illness begins by the age of 24. Nearly 60% of adults with a mental illness did not receive mental health treatment services. On average, there are 123 suicides per day. Men are four times more likely than females to die by suicide.

Many fraternity members, like their peers, will struggle with mental distress at some point in their life. However, the intimate relationships formed within a fraternity can play a critical role in identifying early warning signs of someone experiencing mental distress and engaging in effective intervention for that individual. As such, the Fraternity has partnered with the Human Power Project to offer the Behind Happy Faces Advisor Resource Series and Collegiate Member Education Program for our alumni volunteers, chapter officers, and collegiate members.

We sat down with Ross Szabo, founder and CEO of Human Power Project, to learn more about the current state of mental health on college campuses and the new partnership with Sigma Nu to offer education and support in this important area.

What is the Human Power Project?

Human Power Project is a company that is focused on helping people find their greatest strengths. The one thing that separates humans as a species is our ability to adapt, change, and build new neural pathways for multiple behaviors. Too often mental health is viewed as a weakness or as something that is wrong with people. I wanted to create a company that allowed others to see mental health as a strength. When we're responsible and aware of our emotions we are the strongest we can be.

What sparked your interest in mental health?

I have a lot of personal experience with mental health issues. Relatives on both sides of my family experience depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and addiction. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder with anger control problems and psychotic features when I was 16. During my senior year of high school, I was hospitalized for attempting to take my own life. I had to take a leave of absence due to a relapse with bipolar disorder two months into my freshman year in college. I was in and out of hospitals and various colleges battling extreme alcohol abuse, before I was able to find a way to start managing bipolar disorder around age 23. When I was hospitalized during my senior year of high school I wasn't on anyone's radar. I was class president, had great grades and was involved in all types of school activities. After I got out of the hospital I faced a lot of stigma, rejection and bullying. I decided to start sharing my story while I was still in high school, because I felt like people needed to better understand what others experience.

Why focus on mental health in the college-aged population, particularly members of Greek-letter organizations?

Seventy-five percent of people have their first episode of a mental health disorder by age 18. The average amount of time between someone having their first episode and seeking help is about seven years. That's a really long time to further develop ineffective coping mechanisms and have a dysfunctional life. College is a great time to reach young men with this topic. The stigma and stereotypes for men and emotions are terrible. It's important to reach them with this message of emotional expression as a sign of strength as early as we can to help them develop. Greek life is a great place to reach them with this message, because mental health is a part of brotherhood. If we can help members focus on how to support each other in the systems that are already in place we can expand membership development and connection.

Why is mental health becoming more of a widely discussed topic than in years past?

The stigma surrounding mental health is less now than it was in the decades before it. I think part of the reason this is more discussed is because we have learned more about the brain in the past 2 years than we did in all of the thousands of years before that. People are willing to share their stories and organizations are running effective promotional campaigns. Colleges are seeing their counseling centers flooded with students who need help and research is teaching us more about the issues students are facing. I think this combination of decreased stigma and more research is leading to this topic being discussed as much as it is.

Behind Happy Faces Collegiate Member Program is a nationally-recognized program with more than 120,000 student participants thus far, many of which are members of Greek-letter organizations. What has made this program so successful?

I think what makes this program so successful is that it's widely scalable, really interactivem and opens communication in new ways. Most mental health programs need a lot of training or experts to facilitate the lessons. Behind Happy Faces was created to allow members to interact with open ended questions to have conversations that make mental health approachable in their lives. There's a major disconnect with mental health information, but this program helps members have open dialogue to build vital trust and communication in a chapter. I think the strongest element of this program is that it empowers members to address their mental health.

In 2017, you launched a new program, Behind Happy Faces Advisor Resource Series, designed to provide mental health education and support for fraternity and sorority volunteers. Why create a program specifically for fraternity and sorority volunteers?

Fraternity and sorority volunteers are on the front lines of mental health. They see their members struggling with all different kinds of challenges, but often don't know how to help them. We wanted to create a resource series that gave volunteers some basic information and skills on what to do to open dialogue and support members. We don't need volunteers to be mental health experts. We do need them to know how to have a conversation and most importantly what to do when a member is in crisis. We teach physical health from Kindergarten throughout the rest of a person's life. We typically don't teach mental health at all. The goal of the advisor series and the curriculum is to normalize mental health rather than isolate mental illness.

Launched on January 1, 2018, Sigma Nu volunteers and collegiate chapter officers can participate in the Behind Happy Faces Advisor Resource Series. In August 2018, the Fraternity will be launching the Behind Happy Faces Collegiate Member Program for chapter member use.

If you should have any questions about these new educational offerings, please contact Director of Health and Safety, Fred Dobry, at fred.dobry@sigmanu.org.

© 2015-2018 Sigma Nu Fraternity, Inc.
9 North Lewis Street, P.O. Box 1869, Lexington, Virginia 24450
Phone: 540.463.1869 | Fax: 540.463.1669 | Email: headquarters@sigmanu.org

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