Brandywine’s Unity Week highlights mental health and invisible disabilities

Student writing notecard for "Share a Secret" wall display

During Unity Week, Penn State Brandywine hosted events dedicated to raising awareness about mental health and invisible disabilities.

Credit: Mike McDade

As mental health issues among college students increase, Penn State Brandywine is rising to the challenge. The campus dedicated this year’s Unity Week, which was held Nov. 11 to 15, to raising awareness about mental health and invisible disabilities.

“Unity Week is designed to respond to students’ needs and show representation of and support for our diverse student population,” said Assistant Director of Student Engagement Bridget O’Donnell. “With a growing number of students presenting with mental health concerns and invisible disabilities, it’s important to provide programming that highlights their lived experiences and also promotes awareness and education for campus community members who may not know much about these topic areas.”

Led by the Office of Student Affairs, Unity Week has grown in recent years to include different collaborators, such as Counseling Services, Student Disability Resources, Multilingual and International Student Programs, Residence Life, the Veteran and Adult Student Committee, as well as students, faculty and staff.

The campus kicked off the week’s events with an annual Veterans Day lunch highlighting the challenges of invisible disabilities in higher education.

Assistant Teaching Professor of Information Sciences and Technology and Army veteran Andy Landmesser gave the opening remarks, and he later said the campus’ focus on offering services to veterans makes him proud to be part of Brandywine’s faculty.

“Most veterans don’t feel like they did anything special, just their job, and instead would prefer their family support system be recognized for their sacrifices in having family members deployed overseas,” said Landmesser. “For me as a veteran, Penn State University feels like an extension of that family support system.”

Likewise, student veteran Jameson Robinson Pownall described his experience at Brandywine as positive, helpful and welcoming.

“The faculty here are respectful of veterans,” said Pownall. “While everyone has their own political beliefs, I have found that the professors value the perspectives that people with different experiences can bring to class discussions.”

Other Unity Week events included a discussion-based presentation on LGBTQ+ mental health, a global dialogue lunch and student panel, an ALIVE! mental health fair, a suicide prevention documentary screening, a story-based open-mic event, and a Question, Persuade, Refer training.

Students, including members of the DMAX and Active Minds clubs, helped support the activities.

Junior Danielle Guth, president of DMAX and vice president of Active Minds, said both clubs have a common goal – to break the stigma surrounding mental health on campus.

“We want to share that it's okay to be struggling, it's okay to not be okay, and it's okay to talk about these sensitive topics,” said Guth. “We all need a safe place to feel like we belong and that is one of the main goals of Unity Week – to promote a sense of connectedness with others and shed light on such important issues.”

Active Minds president and sophomore Isabela Carlos Alberto said she was awed by the stories and life events others shared.

“As the campus community gathered for various events throughout the week, you could feel a sense of belonging. The events gave students hope and a realization of many things that are kept in silence that need to be discussed more often,” said Alberto.

Campus resources combat mental health challenges

During Unity Week, the campus also shared information about resources available for students.

Brandywine’s Counseling Services works with students regarding a variety of issues including general support and guidance, life transitions (i.e. adjusting to college, preparing to transfer to a different campus, graduating, death in the family, etc.), stress management, relationship issues, anxiety, depression, anger management, substance abuse, sexual, physical and emotional abuse, and trauma recovery, among other concerns.

Similarly, Student Disability Resources (SDR) provides reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities, those which are both visible and invisible.

“SDR is a vital resource for students to be aware of, but they have to self-disclose in order to receive support, and that’s a difficult thing to do for a lot of students,” said Student Disability Resources Coordinator Anna Bachus. “I am thrilled that this year’s Unity Week focused on mental health and invisible disabilities, because it helps to break some of the stigma around these topics. I hope it has helped spread the message to students that there are resources available and that it’s not only okay to ask for help, but strongly encouraged. We want all Brandywine students to feel supported and comfortable.” 

Perhaps most importantly, these services are free for all currently enrolled full-time and part-time students.

WellTrack is another free resource available to students. The self-guided, interactive app helps students manage their mental wellbeing by helping them understand feelings of stress, anxiety and depression, and teaching them techniques to help navigate those feelings.

Students can download WellTrack in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store using their Penn State email address.

Additional campus resources include the Care Team, Health Services, Financial Aid, Residence Life, Advising and Career Services, Multilingual and International Student Programs, and multiple tutoring centers including the Brandywine Learning Center, the STEM lab and the Writing Studio.

For more information about campus resources, contact the Office of Student Affairs at 610-892-1270 or [email protected].