My Visit to the White House

I knew when I accepted the opportunity to serve the National Panhellenic Conference as the chairman from 2011-2013 I would meet a lot of great people and have the chance to influence change. I never imagined this would lead me to the White House for a conversation about mental health. While this was an exciting opportunity for me personally, it also reaffirmed what I already knew about the National Panhellenic Conference – our organization is powerful and in a great position to make an impact.

Through our work within the Fraternal Government Relations Coalition, the National Panhellenic Conference was approached by Vice President Biden’s office to collaborate with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to facilitate conversation on campus and within the sorority network on mental health. The dialogue is critical as colleges are coping with the needs of students who are coping with a variety of issues – depression, substance abuse, ADHD and more.

Educational materials were posted during Mental Health Awareness Month and will be shared with as many women as we can reach or time allows.

NPC was approached because of its wide-reaching network and because with our member groups are civic-minded organizations who tout our role in educating and training civic-minded members. Conversations like the one on mental health are important for members personally but also our community holistically.

As I sat in the audience at the White House listening to the President talk about the call to action for individuals and organizations, I couldn’t help but feel proud that the Vice President’s Office called on NPC to serve.

Reach Out To Students In Crisis Before It's Too Late

When we move our children to college, we often worry about their eating habits, sleep deprivation and studying time. But mental health is just as important as physical health. We live in a world where 73 percent of students have experienced a mental health crisis while in college.

The key word here is “crisis.”

As a result, the National Panhellenic Conference is now working with the Office of the President and attended the White House conference Monday on mental health issues. Because of our reach and our commitment as an advocate for college women, we’ve committed to working with the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) to facilitate conversations on campus and within the sorority network.

The dialogue is critical as colleges are coping with the needs of students who are dealing with a variety of mental health issues – depression, substance abuse, ADHD and more.

NAMI’s educational materials are posted here and will be shared this fall with as many women as we can reach or as time allows. We’re also spreading the news during sorority conventions this summer.

Why are we so concerned about our collegiate members? NAMI’s survey of 765 students, representing a diverse geographical area and a racially diverse population, tells us why this is pressing.

·         An overwhelming majority of survey respondents who said they are no longer in college are not attending because of mental health-related reasons (64 percent).

·         At least 50 percent of those who dropped out did not access mental health service or support.

·         Students were also equally divided on whether they chose to disclose their mental health condition to their colleges, with half responding that stigmas are still attached to people who are open about their mental health issues.

·         A majority of students, or 79 percent, stressed the importance of offering mental health training for faculty and staff. Forty-two percent of respondents said peer support is critical to success in college.

·         Another 64 percent said “no” or “don’t know” when asked whether their college websites included information about mental health; another 40 percent said their college websites were “somewhat helpful.”

Clearly, more can be done. Just one college student who feels lost is one college student too many.

In a breakout session of about 15 people during the White House conference, it was clear how passionate many of us feel about our most vulnerable population. From clergy to sportscasters, from senators to authors, there was agreement that the time is now to make this more than just a discussion.

If the stigma of mental health illness is a barrier to discussion, then discussions should occur in large audiences with multiple and diverse voices – just as it happened at the White House this week. Often hearing what peers and mentors have to say can encourage a student to make a connection.

Learning more about mental health can also encourage a friend to reach out and ask: “What’s wrong? I am worried about you.”

NPC is rising to the challenge with NAMI, one of the largest grassroots mental health organizations in the country. If you believe in student access to services, treatment, support and research, then join the conversation about mental health.

We hope you make room for the topic this fall to listen, engage and refer.