College of Engineering addresses mental health through event

By Michael Sugerman, Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 7, 2014

Observe. Connect. Act. — This is the motto of Own It, a fledgling student movement in the College of Engineering aimed to build community awareness of mental health issues since its inception this fall.

In its second keynote event Monday, titled “Leading Inclusion: Ending Stigma Around Mental Health,” Own It hosted three speakers to address the importance of combatting depression among students in engineering.

Engineering senior Luke Bruski, executive director of Own It, said the organization’s main goal is to foster academic success by encouraging inclusivity within the College of Engineering.

“Own It is a challenge to the Michigan Engineering community to be our most authentic selves and to support others in doing the same,” he said.

Bruski added there is a culture of poor mental health awareness at the University — an assertion substantiated by data presented by Public Health Prof. Daniel Eisenberg Monday night.

Eisenberg presented results from both nationwide and University studies on mental health. According to a survey of 29 schools, 32 percent of students face some type of mental health challenge, and 9 percent suffer from major depression.

However, Eisenberg said engineering students at the University have a slightly higher prevalence of mental health problems, hovering around 40 percent of students surveyed.

He added that engineering students have also proven to be less likely to use mental health services at the University, such as Counseling and Psychological Services. He said there is a reason for this discrepancy.

“The first thing people usually think of is stigma and negative attitudes about seeking help or about disclosing mental illness,” Eisenberg said. “But we actually see — and this is consistent across, really, most of the campuses — that very small percentage of students actually agree with the statement that’s intended to measure stigma: ‘I think less of people who receive mental health treatment.’ ”

Following Eisenberg’s presentation, University alum Blake Wagner, a research specialist in the School of Public Health, screened a public service announcement produced by Inkblots, an organization he started with his father to address issues of depression among students.

The short film, “Treadmill,” highlighted four major steps to coping with stress and insecurity: stop, breathe, reflect and choose. Wagner said these are a reflection of Inkblots’ general slogan: “Tiny shifts can lead to big changes.”

University alum Richard Sheridan, the CEO of local Ann Arbor tech company Menlo Innovations, was the final speaker at the event.

He said he founded Menlo Innovations because he was tired of the standard bureaucracy of software development, which had at one point instilled in him “a personal trough of disillusionment.”

According the Menlo Innovations website, the company’s mission is to end human suffering in the world as it relates to technology.

Sheridan said this concept requires a unique working environment with open workspace that embraces “the serendipity of noise” to maximize productivity. He added that this method is conducive to collaboration, which is required of his employees.

Sheridan said students must not be afraid to persevere in the face of disappointment, because fear of failure is an obstacle to joy.

“I can tell you that in your work lives, as you go forward, most things you think about will be shot down before you ever try them,” he said. “We pierce through that at Menlo with one simple phrase: ‘Let’s run the experiment.’ ”

Angie Farrehi, the assistant director of student affairs in the College of Engineering and Own It’s faculty adviser, said this mindset — fostering inclusion and “running the experiment” — is exactly what the student movement seeks to encourage.

“Own It takes on the challenge of improving the climate and connectedness of our community,” she said. “Those two pieces are integral to any keynote event … with the end result of hopefully improving success of our students.”