An Interview with Emily Collie, Mental Health Advocate

Emily Collie is a senior exercise science major and a psychology minor. She is the Mental Health Ambassadors (MHA) Chair, the Mental Health Special Interest Group Chair for the Changing Carolina Peer Leaders (CCPL) and the Vice President of Operations for Alpha Epsilon Delta, a pre-professional health honor society as well as a member of Omicron Delta Kappa, a national leadership honor society. She has been a huge advocate for mental health across UofSC’s campus and is here to share some of her insights. 

 

Her Campus South Carolina: What are “Mental Health Ambassadors” and what is the goal of the Mental Health Ambassadors program?

Emily Collie: Mental Health Ambassadors is a grant-funded program within Student Health Services that started in Fall 2019  It is basically a group of people who, in some facet of their life, have been impacted by mental health either in their own personal life or the life of a family member or someone close to them. We seek to advocate for mental health, and, more specifically, mental health help-seeking behaviors through personal storytelling and educating on the mental health resources that are available. We give our spiels about what we have experienced, how we sought help, and our key takeaways, which are different for each Ambassador. 

HCSC: What made you want to get involved with mental health on-campus?

EC: I became a Changing Carolina Peer Leader first, which helped me find my true passion in mental health. I joined as a freshman because I was drawn to the different focus areas of mental health, sexual health and general wellness. In my first semester as a peer, I learned a lot about peer education and public health that made me feel like I wasn’t out of the ordinary for struggling with my mental health. Mental Health Ambassadors seemed like such a unique idea; people are always posting on social media, “There should be no stigma” but no one really thinks to say, “This has happened to me.” There is a lot of research behind it that shows that putting your story out there really helps fight the stigma. The feeling of emotion after sharing my story and seeing how it impacts others is so powerful. 

HCSC: What are some accomplishments of MHA? 

EC: A big accomplishment has been overcoming COVID. The organization was starting to take off in Spring 2020, but everything that was expected was no longer happening. Being able to readjust has been an accomplishment. Another big accomplishment has been creating an Instagram (@gamecocksmha) presence and being able to share mental health content and get information out about the organization. We also had the opportunity to present at Impact, the training for Resident Mentors, which was personally important to me because I had a bad experience with my RM and could have used support. 

HCSC: What is the biggest issue related to Mental Health at UofSC?

EC: From a student standpoint, I really think a lot of people say things like, “I’ll check in on you,” but don’t act on it. It is so important to check in on someone, reach out to them, look for warning signs. Actually practice these behaviors. This can be hard as busy college students with so much going on that makes it hard to even check in on ourselves, let alone our friends. Once you are able to check in on yourself, make sure that you are checking in and really seeing how they are doing. Getting this into our routines could be really helpful in addressing this issue. During MHA presentations, we are mindful to include the different actions that anyone can take to help someone.  

HCSC: What is one thing that you want everyone to know about mental health? 

EC: That mental health plays a role not just in everyone’s lives, but in every single part of everyone’s lives. Even if you are having a great day and don’t think mental health matters, it does. There are always going to be good and bad days. Know that there is help available if or when you need it. 

HCSC: What are some healthy behaviors that we can practice to help our mental health?

EC: Mindfulness activities really help me. The documentary Headspace put out on Netflix is super informative. Mindfulness is an umbrella term for a lot of different things, like boxed breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and gratitude. I practice gratitude every day by writing down 5 things that I am grateful for, like having clean water or my ability to go to college. It is hard, like getting into the habit of going to the gym. I highly recommend you look into mindfulness and try some methods for yourself. 

HCSC: How should we check-in on someone that we think is struggling with their mental health?

EC: Being direct, especially if you think they are at harm to themselves, is the best thing. I highly recommend the Suicide Prevention Gatekeeper Training to get tips for talking about suicide with your peers. So, be direct but not attacking. You can use “I” statements, like “I am concerned because I noticed this behavior”. All people want is support and a listening ear, so showing them that you’re there for them no matter what is really beneficial. Sharing your own story to start the conversation can help make them feel comfortable. If you do have concerns about a friend’s suicidal ideation, you can seek help for yourself in handling these issues through the University counseling line at 803-777-5223.

 

Thank you Emily for all that you do!