“Mental Health is Health”: Educating MSU students

On Wednesday, Minnesota State University Mankato hosted its fourth annual Health and Biomedical Sciences Summit. This year’s summit centered around mental health, an issue that has become more topical and less stigmatized in recent years. The summit featured New York Times bestseller Johann Hari and leading child psychologist Abigail Gewirtz, as well as numerous Minnesota-based mental health professionals. 

Hari opened the event at 8:30 a.m., speaking about the importance of acknowledging COVID’s effect on the mental health crisis in the world. 

“Why would a pandemic lead to an enormous increase in depression, anxiety, addiction, and overdose rates? I think if we can understand the key to that question, if we can figure that out, then we can figure out what was happening before the pandemic and what we need to change as we emerge from it,” said Hari during his talk.

Addressing the often overlooked social causes of mental illness, Hari voiced how communities around the world are substituting chemical solutions with connection. 

“If you’re depressed, you’re not weak, you’re not crazy, you’re not a machine with broken parts. You’re a human being with unmet needs. What you need is love and practical support,” Hari said. 

Brooke Sargent, a junior at MSU majoring in communication sciences, attended the summit for her coursework along with Laura Morrison. “We have a class that recommended it for us. We’re learning about mental health, specifically depression and anxiety,” Sargent said. The two also read Hari’s bestseller “Lost Connections”. 

The second keynote speaker, Gewirtz, spoke on resilience and parenting. “There is arguably nothing more terrifying than to be a parent and know your child may be in danger and you can’t protect them, or conversely to be a child and not have your secure base,” Gewirtz said. Over the last 12 years, her research centered on military families, immigrant families, and victims of domestic abuse. 

In addition to the keynote speakers, the event also hosted lightning round talks and breakout rooms to add different perspectives on the topic of mental health.

Thad Shunkwiler, Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Science at MSU, was heavily involved in planning this year’s summit aiming to get more students curious. 

“That’s the reason we do it, is students. Everything we do on this campus should also go through the lens of how does this impacts our students,” Shunkwiler said. “There are experts in different areas to help our audience understand the industry of mental health. The goal is for them to learn more about healthcare and how it’s delivered.”

Lynae Casto, a first-semester nursing student, shared why she came “I’m interested in mental health, and I wanted to see what it’s about since mental health is such a broad topic,” she said.

Header Photo: Johann Hari, shared his “War on Drugs” segment during the Health and Biomedical Sciences Summit at MSU on Wednesday. (Dylan Engel/The Reporter)

Write to Alexandra Tostrud at Alexandra.Tostrud@mnsu.edu

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