Capital students and community members gathered March 18 to highlight mental health issues in Beta Beta Beta’s first mental health gala.
The event, held from 5-8 in Trinity’s Koinonia center, featured a catered meal, several auction items, and two keynote speakers, Dr. Elizabeth Yoder a Capital graduate of the class of 2002 who serves as the chief of psychiatry at Lincoln Memorial Hospital, and Dr. Kate St. James, who works with Behavioral Healthcare Partners.
The organizers raised $4180 in total, with $1055 coming from the silent auction. The money is to be given to Behavioral Healthcare Partners, to expand their coverage. 130 people attended, including members of Tri Beta and the Chemistry club.
The event was inspired by Christina Mickelson, a senior biology major with a pre-optometry focus and the historian for Tri Beta, in honor of a close friend Anthony Sanidad.
Sanidad died from suicide on Februrary 21st, 2021. At the time he was studying engineering, in a high pressure environment which is often alienating for its students.
The event was therefore centered around addressing mental health struggles in STEM fields. Students noted a stigma around STEM majors where they were expected to know much more and need less help, adding to the burden of the material.
Both speakers addressed these stresses. Dr. Yoder spoke of her experience as a pre-med student, where she always felt like she had a support network. She notes that this experience is not shared by current students.
Dr. Yoder noted several statistics, such as the fact that 51% of STEM students consider leaving STEM over mental health concerns, 65% experienced bullying and 74% said they were witnesses to bullying in the field. The environment in STEM is not just hostile, it is intentionally unaccommodating to its students.
The picture painted here was one reflected in STEM students at Capital. Christina Mickelson spoke on this:
“I felt the pressure to continuously do well, like to continuously study 20 hours for a single class. To continuously push myself past burnout…I wanted to keep going and pushing and pushing until I literally damaged my own health doing that,” she said.
Shyanne Salters, a senior biology major with a pre-med focus and president of Tri Beta, noted a similar pressure. Particularly one found in exams:
“…for our exams we have to be able to apply the knowledge, it’s not just recall. Take for example, that you have a fever, well what all does that fever do to your body? What are the lasting impacts? What caused that fever? All of those questions could be wrapped up in one question alone, and be worth 30 points.”
The compounding nature of required knowledge only builds further on the struggles facing the STEM fields. One study found an attrition rate of 48% for STEM majors, meaning nearly half of STEM students switched programs or left school entirely.
Dr. St. James spoke on these pressures as well and addressed the many proposed quick fixes for mental health.
“Do they not realize that you’re a student?” she said, having just listed the typical suggestions of eating better, yoga, and getting better sleep as mental health fixes.
While she made clear that the quick fixes are not bad, they are not always enough. She encouraged students to understand that getting help is okay and that they did not need to always have everything together, despite the expectation placed on STEM majors to have everything together.
She also spoke on her work with Behavioral Healthcare Partners, the organization the gala raised money for. The organization works in Licking and Knox county, providing access to mental health care including the operation of two Mental Health Urgent Care clinics which provide counseling, psychiatric care, and case management among other services.
While the work has been transformative for many people and inspiring to Dr. St James, it is not without struggle.
“I can’t believe that this is something I actually have to talk about but [we need a larger] workforce. We’re like other industries, the behavioral health field is struggling with attracting and retaining people,” she said, commenting on the biggest struggle in providing mental healthcare access.
Sanidad was a close friend of Mickelson and the two knew each other from a young age, though their closer friendship developed in high school.
Mickelson recalled him as someone who never wanted others to feel alone. She recalled him being scared by a time she was locked out of her home on a cold day, consistently reaching out to make sure she was okay. Another moment she shared was one where he stayed with her on a trampoline when their other friends had left so she would not be alone.
“I would describe him as a very caring and kindhearted person who would at the drop of a hat be there for you no matter what,” Mickelson said.