Local mental health professionals discuss anxiety and depression

Suggested+photo+caption%3A+John+McCormick%2C+Stephanie+Ballou%2C+Dr.+Marc+Hettlinger%2C+Dr.+Aaron+Upton+and+Kristin+Cookson+participate+in+a+panel+discussion+on+mental+health+with+Marshall+students+in+Drinko+Library+Room+402.
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Local mental health professionals discuss anxiety and depression

Suggested photo caption: John McCormick, Stephanie Ballou, Dr. Marc Hettlinger, Dr. Aaron Upton and Kristin Cookson participate in a panel discussion on mental health with Marshall students in Drinko Library Room 402.

Suggested photo caption: John McCormick, Stephanie Ballou, Dr. Marc Hettlinger, Dr. Aaron Upton and Kristin Cookson participate in a panel discussion on mental health with Marshall students in Drinko Library Room 402.

Douglas Harding

Suggested photo caption: John McCormick, Stephanie Ballou, Dr. Marc Hettlinger, Dr. Aaron Upton and Kristin Cookson participate in a panel discussion on mental health with Marshall students in Drinko Library Room 402.

Douglas Harding

Douglas Harding

Suggested photo caption: John McCormick, Stephanie Ballou, Dr. Marc Hettlinger, Dr. Aaron Upton and Kristin Cookson participate in a panel discussion on mental health with Marshall students in Drinko Library Room 402.

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Local mental health professionals participated in a panel discussion with Marshall University students about anxiety, depression and finding help Sept. 27 in Drinko Library.

The event was part of the Don’t Call Me Crazy: Resiliency through Education mental health awareness series sponsored by Marshall Libraries, Counseling Center and Women’s Center.

“I’m a veteran, I’m a Marshall graduate, I’m a director on this campus, and in 2009 I tried to take my own life,” Jonathan McCormick, director of Military and Veteran’s Affairs, said.

McCormick, who is a veteran of the U.S. Marines, said for years he has heard people say it is a priority to destigmatize mental health issues, and it maintains one for him today.

“Ten years ago, people tried to get me to get help because they realized something was different,” McCormick said. “But I didn’t want to be labeled crazy.”

McCormick said those suffering from mental health issues like anxiety and depression should not avoid showing a vulnerable side of themselves to friends out of fear.

“I was terrified when I first opened up to my friends,” he said. “But when you finally do, it’s like you become a mutual support system for each other.”

Being willing to show vulnerability does not reveal weakness, but rather exemplifies personal strength, McCormick said.

This was a sentiment panelist Aaron Upton said he and McCormick shared. Upton is a clinical psychologist at Herschel Woody Williams Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Huntington.

“It’s always going to be uncomfortable, but we have to be able to talk about these things openly, honestly and in a way that is not judgmental,” Upton said. “We have to remind our friends it’s okay to reach out for help.”

Upton said almost all people deal with mental health issues like anxiety and depression at certain points in their lives to various degrees.

“Too many times, mental illnesses are seen as a weakness instead of something that everyday people suffer from sometimes,” Upton said. “It isn’t all about medical treatment. Sometimes just having personal connections can be a major help.”

Upton said it is essential to remember not to be overly focused on labels regarding mental health issues.

“Whether we call something anxiety or depression isn’t what matters,” he said. “What matters is how someone feels and how that affects them. There are plenty of mental health issues that don’t have clear labels as disorders.”

Dr. Marc Hettlinger, a primary care physician with Marshall Health, also said the focus should be on how people feel and how to help those who need it.

“Mental illness is a common problem everywhere that needs to be better appreciated and identified,” Hettlinger said.

Hettlinger said anxiety and depression are often very real issues for college students and others, but they are not unmanageable problems.

“If you believe a friend is suffering from mental health problems, the most important thing you can do is be there for them and be willing to listen to them,” he said.

Hettlinger said this can often be the first step someone needs to motivate them to reach out and seek help.

“Simply having someone to talk to and listen can really help the growing process for many people,” Hettlinger said. “We aren’t bulletproof. We all have issues from time to time. There are so many things that contribute to the way we feel on a daily basis. Someone suffering isn’t always the person crying in the corner of the room.”

Hettlinger said mental health symptoms and solutions will be different for different people.

“Everyone is different,” he said. “Everyone’s life is different, and everyone’s brain is different. You have to be honest with yourself and understand it’s okay to reach out for help.”

Stephanie Ballou, director of disability services at Marshall, said being willing to ask for help is immensely important as well.

Ballou said many students she has met or worked with would rather suffer through their mental health problems than seek help from services out of fear of what others may think of them.

“Walk your friends to the Counseling or Health Center and help them have that first conversation if necessary,” she said. “We have administrators who do this for students all the time, and sometimes it can be just what someone needs to start making progress.”

It is essential to encourage all faculty get to know and understand their students as individuals, so they are better equipped to help with these issues, Ballou said.

This is one way administrators have helped Marshall student Kristin Cookson when she has suffered from depression or anxiety.

Cookson is working toward two master’s degrees in mental health counseling and school counseling, and she works at Golden Girl group home for at-risk and troubled teen girls in West Virginia.

Utilizing campus clinicians and other mental health services is one of many ways Cookson was able to get help for herself, she said.

“It also really helped me when I realized I wasn’t just broken, and I started learning coping skills,” Cookson said.

She said one thing that cannot be stressed enough to those suffering from mental health issues is the importance of self-care. For Cookson, she said there are simple things she enjoys like playing her favorite video game or doing her makeup when she feels overwhelmed.

“Even if you only have 15 minutes, finding those things for yourself and making time for self-care will make a world of difference in how much progress you make going forward,” Cookson said.

Some peoples’ bodies do not naturally produce enough of certain necessary chemicals, and they do not deserve to be shamed for that, Cookson said.

“We don’t shame anyone for needing to take insulin shots,” she said. “So why would we shame someone for needing mental health medication?”

Cookson said mental health issues can be scary because sometimes someone suffering can show no warning signs at all. For those suffering, taking such simple steps to get help as making a phone call to a doctor can feel overwhelmingly difficult and scary, she said.

“If you care about someone, pay attention to them,” Cookson said. “Tell them you’re worried about them and talk to them if you’re concerned.”

McCormick said if he would have reached out for help years ago and gotten appropriate accommodations, he would have done immensely better in college and been much happier.

“There were times in college I would stare at my computer screen for hours too scared to log into my online class because how stressed and depressed I was,” McCormick said. “I would never have a problem telling someone I was ordered by a doctor to have shoulder surgery, so I think we should be comfortable talking about mental health issues as well.”

Douglas Harding can be contacted at [email protected]

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