Lucy White isn’t far removed from being a college student.
Since arriving at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in February, she’s been pleasantly surprised by an openness to talk about mental health.
“I graduated from undergraduate 12 years ago and mental health on a college campus was very different at that time. You didn’t celebrate being seen in a counselor’s office for mental health concerns,” said White, assistant director for education and suicide prevention at the UTC Center for Wellbeing.
“I am impressed by UTC and the students here and their willingness to seek help and resources. I’m seeing future leaders that can go on to have these conversations in a confident way.”
It’s only a one-generation difference since her undergraduate days at Montreat College in North Carolina, where she received a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2010 before earning a master’s in clinical mental health counseling from the University of Montevallo in Alabama in 2015.
That generational difference, though, is profound.
“There was a stigma to seek help so, just in a decade, the conversation has radically changed,” White said. “I tell students when I’m in front of them in the classroom, ‘Thank you for what you’re doing and having these conversations.’”
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and White has been busy coordinating programming geared toward mental health and suicide awareness, along with educating people about resources, professionals and different organizations that can help them if there’s a mental health emergency.
White said the month would be chockful of events at UTC, varying from small to large, including:
- Sept. 1: Suicide Prevention tabling, 10 a.m.-1 p.m., University Center
- Sept. 1: “Carrying Self-Care With You” seminar with the Hub, noon-1 p.m., Lupton Hall Room 113
- Sept. 6: Open Columbia Scale training, noon, Zoom
- Sept. 7: “Step Up! For Mental Health” training, noon, Center for Wellbeing
- Sept. 8: Wear Purple Day; students, faculty and staff are encouraged to wear purple for suicide prevention and recovery awareness
- Sept. 8: “Tomorrow Needs You” axe-throwing event and mini mental health fair, 6-8 p.m., Heritage Plaza
- Sept. 21: “Step Up! For Mental Health” training, noon, Center for Wellbeing
- Sept. 23: Suicide Prevention Hike, 4-6 p.m., Stringer’s Ridge
- Sept. 27: Open Columbia Scale training, 3 p.m., Zoom
- Sept. 28: “Keep on Rollin’” roller-skating event, 6-9 p.m., Lupton Garage
White said the theme for the month is “Tomorrow Needs You.” The Sept. 8 event with that name “will be a mini mental health fair with table vendors from campus and the community focusing on mental health awareness resources that are available to staff and students, as well as some fun activities such as axe throwing and cornhole to engage people to participate in the conversation.
“And then we’ll end the month with ‘Keep on Rollin,’ an evening roller-skate event at the bottom of Lupton Garage. Students can come and skate for free for a few hours and vow to keep on rolling, hopefully with more knowledge of the resources available to them.”
While the month raises awareness of suicide prevention and resources for positive mental health, White said it’s time to shift the conversation from it being a stigmatized and taboo topic to being one of hope and shared experience.
“This is how we come together as a community and find our way back to our best self through resources and support,” she said. “Knowing when to reach out for help is a superpower and a strength and should not be looked down upon.
“We have to realize that none of us are exempt from experiencing issues with our mental health. We all need to learn about available resources to help ourselves or those we know and love who could experience distress.”
It was during her time answering the suicide hotline as a graduate intern at the Crisis Center in Birmingham, Alabama, that she said she found a niche in that environment, “quickly learning that crisis is a sacred ground, and how to remain calm and de-escalate people.”
White soon found a job as a mobile crisis counselor for Youth Villages in Chattanooga in 2016, where she “drove around to emergency rooms, schools, anywhere in the community that a kid was in crisis and talked with them until the point of de-escalation and referral,” she said. “I felt like I found my clinical voice and my spot in the larger world of mental health.”
Before landing at UTC, she also worked as a program director for AIM Center in Chattanooga, a not-for-profit mental health program engaging adults with serious mental illness in recovery activities.
“Being able to work and train people to be in the front line to support students experiencing mental health distress is very meaningful and pretty full circle,” she said.
“I think that we as a campus and a community have an opportunity to embrace a new direction with this culture of supporting each other through challenges and recognizing they’re very normal.”
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For information about scheduling a suicide prevention training or event for classes or departments, contact Lucy White, assistant director for education and suicide prevention, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re concerned about your own mental well-being or that of someone you care about, resources are available on campus through the Counseling Center.
UTC Cares provides on-campus and public resources for students and employees, including a 24/7 crisis response hotline number—423-425-CARE (2273)—created for students experiencing a mental health crisis and allowing them to speak with a licensed professional counselor who can offer emotional support.
- UTC Cares: 423-425-CARE (2273)
- Counseling Center: 423-425-4438
- University Health Services: 423-425-2266
- Office of Student Outreach and Support: 423-425-2299
- Survivor Advocacy Services: 423-425-5648
- Title IX Coordinator: 423-425-4255
- UTC Police Department: 423-425-HELP (4357)
Links to other resources: