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'We have to make this a top priority': UNC hosting mental health summit Monday

Two students hold hands at the Old Well on Feb. 13, 2020.

UNC is hosting a mental health summit Monday with a series of discussions, panels and sessions throughout the day focused on campus culture, crisis services and prevention.

The event, scheduled from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., is open to students, parents, faculty and staff.

Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, chairperson of the psychiatry department in the School of Medicine, and Amy Johnson, vice chancellor for student affairs, are leading the summit.

While major issues with mental health were known to exist nationally and on campus before the pandemic, Metzler-Brody said, the pandemic has only worsened rates of anxiety and depression.

“I'm thrilled to see UNC make the commitment to look at this issue carefully and thoughtfully, and really see the summit as the beginning of what will be an ongoing conversation,” she said. “It's a way of calling attention and putting a line in the sand saying we have to make this a top priority in everything we do.”

Johnson said the summit provides an opportunity to engage in dialogue about mental health.

"In some ways, it's good stress and wonderful to be back in person, but stress all the same," Johnson said. "And so people's bank accounts in terms of their emotional, psychological readiness and preparedness for that to draw upon were low. And so that was a compounding factor that people didn't really prepare for."

Johnson said she thinks the response to this transition should be one of respect to a culture of compassion and care.

Regarding response processes through campus and the UNC Health system, Metzler-Brody said many people are doing many different things, but there is not necessarily one organized response to mental health.

She sees this moment as an opportunity to look differently at the approach to mental health.

“I think this is an opportunity to synergize and collaborate and learn from each other and have people appreciate how much energy there is and investment and really wanting to get this right for UNC," Metzler-Brody said.

Johnson said one group the summit seeks to pull in is students. Several groups are slated to present at the summit during a session on student voices, including Peer2Peer, the Healthy Heels Ambassadors, the Undergraduate Student Government and the Graduate and Professional Student Government.

Senior Sonam Shah, a co-founder of Peer2Peer, said one goal for the student presentations and the summit is getting everyone on the same page that mental health struggles exist for students — something she said has not always been present in campus culture.

During what Shah called the “twindemic” of COVID-19 and mental health, she said recognition is more important than ever.

“The more we acknowledge that, the better we can adapt that and the better we can address these problems on a day-to-day basis and making sure that this is something that is acknowledged, accepted, understood and something that we can take action for,” Shah said. “The key thing is awareness, and that's the biggest thing that you can do when it comes to mental health.”

Registration for the Mental Health Summit is open to students, faculty and staff.

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