“Leaders of Hope” fights depression

By Hannah Collings

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America stated that up to 17 percent of United States adults experience depression during their lifetime. On Nov. 2 in the Carlson Library, Student Support Assistant Thomas Crissman gave a presentation titled “Leaders of Hope” and spoke on the effects of and treatments available for students experiencing depression and how non-depressed peers can help.

Crissman began by sharing his own experience as an undergraduate student at Clarion University. A first-generation college student, Crissman grew up in a blue-collar community. He struggled with his purpose in attending college, reasoning that rather than spending money on education, he could be earning substantially were he to return to his job at home. For a time, Crissman isolated himself, stopped attending classes and stayed in his dorm playing video games.

A significant event at this time in Crissman’s life was the intervention by a friend who came to Crissman’s room and asked, “What’s going on?” He had noticed Crissman’s odd behavior and isolationism. Crissman protested that nothing was wrong, to which the friend replied, “No, you’re not fine. Get your ass up; we’re leaving.”

Crissman defined depression as a period of over two weeks where one lacks motivation, experiences fatigue and is overwhelmed by negative or suicidal thoughts and hopelessness. He said it becomes a monster, “a silent killer,” that is “behind our back, always with us.”

Crissman added, “We’ve all had bad days. Depression’s past that.”

By becoming aware of depression, Crissman says students can become leaders by learning to take care of their own needs and to care for others. Being a leader “doesn’t necessarily mean you have to know all the answers,” Crissman explained, but that “hope is the number one factor of helping someone.”

Lamont Robinson / The Clarion Call Thomas Crissman speaks about combating depression and hopelessness.
Lamont Robinson / The Clarion Call
Thomas Crissman speaks about combating depression and hopelessness.

Crissman said students must be willing to come alongside peers and affirm to them that the depressive thoughts they are experiencing are untrue. Crissman wrote, “Leaders have the privilege of being a machine for change. Do not underestimate your ability to change a life.”

At the end of the presentation, Crissman directed students to mental health services available on campus. By making attendees aware, he hoped awareness would spread throughout campus. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always reachable by phone or text at 1-800-273-8255. Clarion University’s Center for Wellness offers free, confidential counseling for students.

Crissman says the most challenging part of his work is that “you can’t reach everyone.” He cited that 50 percent of people with mental health diagnoses, or those eligible, never reach out for help. Crissman hopes to break down the stigma surrounding mental illness and empower students to reach out for themselves or others.

Crissman’s dream for improving mental health services at Clarion University is to set up a resource hotline for students experiencing stress and anxiety. This service would be for students who needed a listening ear, to give them a chance to talk through their emotions.

This event was part of the Mary Walter Lecture Series for Leadership and Mental Wellness.

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