Tragedy at San Rafael Inspires Event to De-Stigmatize Mental Health Issues and Provide Resources for Students


Audrey Ronningen
Promotions Director

Photos Courtesy of Ann Arbor Library District

The death of a student last week in San Rafael Hall has brought together the Residence Halls Association and organizations all over campus in an effort to promote awareness of student mental health. This tragedy, which occurred on Feb. 12, is a grim reminder that stress and other issues take a drastic toll on individuals, and that failure to get help can have devastating consequences.

In response, RHA is organizing San Rafael Mental Health Week, a new set of events that highlights resources available to students and features beneficial ways to approach the pressures of college life.

Holly Dethero, Co-President of the San Rafael Residence Hall, elaborated on the importance of the dorm’s Mental Health Week as a positive response to the tragedy.

“A lot of people in our building were affected by it, so we’re just trying to raise awareness about mental issues so that it doesn’t happen again,” she said.

Dethero, a second-year Spanish and economics double major, has been one of the main organizing forces behind these upcoming events, and has been working to include a wide variety of organizations and activities.

While an incidence of this magnitude is undeniably tragic, it has also accentuated the strength and sympathy of various groups that help make up the University of California, Santa Barbara community.

“We’ve got a good response from a lot of campus resources,” Dethero stated. “So many people have contacted me that I didn’t even contact, that want to know if they can help.”

The associations that have responded will be tabling during the week’s kick-off event on Wednesday, Feb. 27. Aptly called “Passport to Mental Health,” this gathering in the San Rafael Courtyard will give each group the opportunity to present their information on maintaining an upbeat mental outlook.

These organizations include well-known groups on campus, such as UCSB Health and Wellness and Mental Health Peers.

Health and Wellness is centered on all aspects of student well-being. In their mission statement they declare the goal of promoting “the mental, physical, and social health of students by enhancing individual skills and positive relationships with families, peers, and the UCSB/Isla Vista community.”

Mental Health Peers, a division of UCSB Counseling, takes a similar but more specific approach.

Their website states, “Our mission is to increase knowledge about mental health topics and resources and decrease the stigma attached to mental health.”

The recent tragedy has brought attention to the fact that, while these groups are readily available to assist students at UCSB, not enough people are getting the help that is, in some cases, life-saving.

Mental health is seen as a stigmatized issue in our society, and, as a result, students are often afraid to seek assistance if they are dealing with serious problems from stress. With this in mind, the intent for Wednesday’s event is to go beyond educating students about their options, while also instilling the sense that there is no shame in getting help.

“We’re hoping that they see that these people are here for them, and that if they ever do have something that they need to talk about or address, that they can go there,” Dethero said.

Although every event in the week contributes to mental health awareness, many of the activities after Wednesday take a different approach, and instead focus on combatting everyday stresses.

Dethero explained the common denominator that RHA used to decide upon these activities: “We sat down and thought about all the different ways that you can feel better about yourselves and handle pressure.”

Another important aspect is the fact that these group activities provide support and build community. In a time when many students are dealing with the incident of Feb. 12 as well as the ongoing pressures of their own lives, knowing that they are not alone is bound to be reassuring.

The San Rafael Mental Health Week is catered toward residents but open to everyone, as its goal is to promote mental well-being for all UCSB students.

“It is hard to ask for help, but there are services so that people are willing to accept it,” Dethero concluded. “I just hope we encourage people to get help when they need it.”