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New mental health initiative encourages students to ask for help

I Asked 4 Help

A new initiative called I Asked 4 Help is providing a unique approach to mental health services on the USF St. Petersburg campus and focuses on students who don’t know how or when to reach out for help.

The potentially life-saving project includes an I Asked 4 Help website dedicated to university students of all ages dealing with life stressors on and off campus. The website includes information like how to find crisis and emergency services, a section to submit referrals, testimonials from students who sought help and provides comprehensive resources that will help someone become the person they want to be at USF and beyond.

According to a survey report by the National Alliance on Mental Health, nearly 65 percent of students who experienced mental health issues in college stopped attending. On the USF St. Petersburg campus, an assessment conducted by the Wellness Center in February 2022 showed students being highly stressed, with 84 percent saying they would consider mental health services.

The I Asked 4 Help initiative seeks to assist such students in need and launches in conjunction with World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10.

The idea for the initiative came from Victoria Beltran, assistant director of prevention services at the Wellness Center on the St. Petersburg campus. Beltran, also a doctoral candidate in public health at USF, noticed a need for students to learn help-seeking behaviors.

“We see those warning signs, and we have staff reaching out and making sure they don’t leave. But I noticed that there is no other emphasis beyond what we were offering as university staff and faculty to help these students,” Beltran said. “There was no talk about how to increase these help-seeking behaviors. That is an important adult skill. You have to learn how to reach out for help; you have to develop a sense of humility and learn to say, ‘I don’t know everything, I can’t figure this out on my own,” she explained.

The initiative will address stressors such as challenging classes, lack of motivation or financial burdens for single and married students. The website includes sections on how to develop those help-seeking skills and testimonials from students who have recognized the need for help and why they reached out to someone. Students are already sharing their mental health stories on the website, hoping others will be inspired to pursue their journey.

“I was having a lot of struggles surrounding my mother getting cancer, living with an ex-boyfriend and dealing with assault trauma all at once,” one student wrote. “I felt very alone and lost, at rock bottom. USF’s Center for Victim Advocacy, my counselor and Student Outreach helped me get my life back on track.”

Another student wrote about the campus staff that helped her; “I failed one of my first classes due to past, deep-rooted bad habits and coping mechanisms which were amplified during COVID. After being referred to the Wellness Center, I was able to make steps toward the person I wanted to be. Though I’m still on that journey, I would not be where I am without them.”

The I Asked 4 Help initiative is funded through USF’s Office of Student Outreach & Support (SOS) for health and suicide prevention. The SOS received a $10,000 grant from the Love IV Lawrence foundation, founded after the unexpected death of Lawrence Hundley Dimmitt IV. The Love IV Lawrence organization is working to change the conversation around mental health and suicide.

Along with World Suicide Prevention Day, the month of September is recognized as Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. During that time, the Wellness Center plans to host tabling events to promote the new initiative, website and other mental health resources. If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call or text 988 or click here to set up an appointment or learn more about the Wellness Center.

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