‘Raising Awareness’ concert Nov. 14 partners Elon programs for mental health support

Faculty, staff and students in the Department of Music, Department of Public Health and Counseling Services will present “Raising Awareness” Tues., Nov. 14, at 7:30 p.m. in McCrary Theatre.

Flier for Raising Awareness mental health event Tues., Nov. 14, at 7:30 pm in Whitley AuditoriumAn event in McCrary Theatre next week will bring together music and mental health awareness, connecting students, faculty and staff to resources available on campus while celebrating music’s therapeutic power.

“Raising Awareness,” a joint concert by Elon’s Wind Ensemble and Concert Band, will include information and presentations from Counseling Services and Elon’s Department of Public Health. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 14, and will include guest speakers and facts about emotional well-being. Information, displays and conversation will be shared before and after the program in the McCrary Theatre lobby.

Organizers hope students, faculty and staff will find comfort and community in exploring the subject together and better recognize and support friends and peers experiencing mental health challenges.

The collaboration comes in response to the anxieties and isolation many experienced and are still experiencing due to the pandemic and global events of the last few years. Director of Bands Jonathan Poquette and Assistant Professor of Public Health Studies Molly Green saw the need for greater discussion around mental health and support for mental health services and began planning last spring.

“Pre-Covid-19 pandemic, mental health issues were a major issue among college students, and these have only gotten worse with the pandemic and now post-pandemic,” Green said. “According to the newest Healthy Minds Study data, which surveyed around 75,000 college students, 41% have overall depression and 36% are dealing with an anxiety disorder.”

After further research, Poquette and Green identified that these challenges were related to Elon’s HealthEU initiative and contacted Counseling Services to gauge interest in collaborating on a larger event.

“We want to raise awareness about mental health and strategies to work through difficult times,” Poquette said. “We realized how the pandemic impacted our students. It was clear that they were still wrestling with the pandemic and that as a society we still need to recover.”

Counseling Services, which had started to introduce Expressive Therapies to students — such as drama, art and movement — saw a natural fit in the collaboration.

“Many of our therapy sessions involve teaching students some basic healthy coping skills, so an opportunity to do this preventatively, and build it into the curriculum allows us to reach a wider audience to learn to better cope with the common stressors that come with being a college student,” Meredith Harrison, counselor/group coordinator, said.

Green says that college-aged adults are especially at risk of experiencing anxiety and depression due to the stressors of adjusting to adulthood and independence while planning for careers and life ahead.

“The age of onset when many mental health conditions first show up for folks is late adolescence and early adulthood. The need for awareness for these issues, especially in the population that are so affected by them, is extremely important,” Green said. “We understand from the data that some of the barriers to treatment students report are assuming they don’t need help, finding the time, and wanting to deal with issues on their own. Increasing awareness of the need for timely intervention, as well as what to look for in terms of symptoms in yourself or a friend, can be really helpful in overcoming some of those barriers.”

Students in Green’s PHS 2010 Introduction to Public Health course prepared materials to share with concertgoers and will present those in the lobby. Counseling Services will also be in the lobby with information regarding their mental health services. “Raising Awareness” is an opportunity for them to develop health communication skills while supporting their peers and community, she said.

Poquette and Assistant Director of Bands Herb Payung chose musical pieces responding to crises and emotional turmoil. The Elon Wind Ensemble will play “Zing!” by Scott McAllister, “Breathe,” by Alex Shapiro, and “Where the Sky has no Stars,” by Katahi Copley.

“’Zing!’ is a bright opener that ‘calls attention.’ ‘Breathe’ is a piece that Shapiro wrote during the pandemic as a response to all the rigid protocols and desire to let go. ‘Where the Sky Has No Stars’ was written in response to a time when the composer wanted to take his own life due to loneliness and depression. This piece is his attempt to wrestle with these two sides of himself and the challenges he faces when doing so,” Poquette said.

From these pieces, Poquette, Green and Harrison want to advance dialogue among students and others in the community on how to better address mental health issues. “We also hope to start breaking down some of the stigma around mental health so more people are able to receive treatment,” Green said.

Harrison echoed that, stating that her hope is “that students and all audience members will consider how the music speaks to them, reflect on the Public Health students’ presentations, and check in with themselves on their own mental health.”