USFSM students talk about mental health issues Tuesday in the rotunda.

USFSM students tackle topic of mental health in day-long talk

By: Rich Shopes

Posted: April 12, 2016

SARASOTA, Fla. (April 12, 2016) – “Dance.” “Cooking and exercising.” “FaceTime with my boyfriend.” “A glass of wine.” “Paintball.”

Dr. Phil Wagner’s Student Life Skills class at USF Sarasota-Manatee offered an array of stress-relieving strategies as more than three dozen students stopped by the rotunda Tuesday to facilitate a campuswide talk about mental health issues.

Each semester, Wagner asks his SLS students to initiate a conversation among fellow students, faculty and staff on a topic that “we should be talking about” but often gets ignored. This semester, the class elected to discuss mental health issues – a subject “stigmatized and brushed under the rug,” said Dr. Wagner, who applauded the students for their choice.

“The whole idea is to show we care about these issues and that this is something we can talk about,” he said, adding it’s no coincidence the students visited the rotunda this week, “one of the most stressful times of year” with final exams approaching.

To illustrate the problem, he brought in a six-foot-high, plastic elephant to symbolize the “elephant in the room.”

Using large, colorful Post-It Notes, students affixed messages to the inflatable pachyderm – among them, “Dance,” “Cooking and exercising,” “FaceTime with my boyfriend,” “A glass of wine,” and “Paintball” – to indicate how they cope with stress.

Also popular were “exercise,” “seeking out a friend” or “going for a walk.” Joining the students and Wagner for the day-long conversation were representatives from Coastal Behavioral Healthcare Inc.

Student Cameron Lock says he plays paintball to relieve.

Student Cameron Lock says he plays paintball to relieve stress.

Dr. Cherie Gooding, clinical director for adult health care services at CBH, said there’s no rulebook for reducing stress. Just about any activity is acceptable as long as it truly helps and isn’t destructive. Even a glass of wine is OK provided it doesn’t lead to excessive drinking.

“I think if that is your only way of relaxing, then you have to be careful that one glass doesn’t become two or three or more,” she said. “Then it can be destructive.”

Cameron Lock, 20, doesn’t have that problem. To ease the pressures and anxieties of school life, he suits up, grabs some ammo and heads to the paintball park.

“That way I can shoot at something without hurting anyone,” he said.

On Monday, another one of Wagner’s classes – Communication, Gender and Identity – will visit the rotunda as well. This time the students will talk about sexual assault. Again, Wagner will bring the elephant.

“Instead of messages on the elephant, the students have compiled stories about sexual violence and statistics,” he said. “You’ll be able to peel these off the elephant as folded pieces of paper and take them with you to remind you throughout the day about this important issue in our community.”

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