Counseling Center

Counseling+Center

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ANNA ALLDREDGE, Staff Writer

On Tuesday, Sept. 15, the UNI Counseling Center held its second annual Mental Health Conference via Zoom. This year’s conference consisted of several breakout sessions throughout the day and featured keynote speaker Jamie Tworkowski, founder of the nonprofit organization To Write Love on Her Arms.

According to Riley Rodemaker, Graduate Assistant for Suicide Prevention and one of the coordinators of this event, the conference was originally to be held in person for a longer duration/ Due to COVID-19 measures, changes were made to both the format and lineup of the event so it could happen on a smaller scale.

This year’s conference theme was “2020: A Vision for the Future,” which attempted to address the current state of many individuals’ mental health while also remaining optimistic and hopeful for the future.

“With COVID and all of this stuff, there’s been a lot of change happening,” Rodemaker said. “Something that could maybe be good for individuals is to have a conference that focuses on hope or what’s coming in the furture that’s going to be good, not necessarily what is going on right now.”

After brief opening remarks made by NISG Director of Mental Health Josie Sack, president of To Write Love on Her Arms McKenzie Waddell, NISG President Elle Boeding and UNI President Mark Nook, the conference kicked off with a session led by Traci Ludwig on trauma-informed yoga.

Ludwig discussed the latest research on the subject, how trauma-informed yoga differs from typical yoga practices and how intentional language is used to help those who have experienced trauma. She then led a brief practice using trauma-informed language and research-based methods.

Because this is only the second year this conference has been put on, coordinators tried to implement changes and improvements as best they could under the current circumstances.

“In terms of last year’s conference, we had a lot of really good feedback,” Rodemaker said. “This year, we just kind of wanted to make sure the conference happened again. We’re trying to establish it as something that’s going to happen time and time again. A big push at the university is looking at non-western kinds of treatment. Not necessarily like talk therapy or medication, but maybe other things like meditation or yoga.”

Additionally, this year’s conference stressed the prevalence of disparities in access to mental health care and how marginalized minorities are disproportionately affected by mental illnesses.

“Due to a lot of conversations happening in the United States and the world right now in regards to race and other issues, we have also included a mental health and diversity panel, which is going to be a diverse array of individuals talking about their interpretations of mental health and their experiences here on campus and in the surrounding community,” Rodemaker said.

Following sessions on Validate, Appreciate, Refer (VAR) training, a Diversity in Mental Health Panel and Suicide Prevention in the Future, attendees tuned in for keynote speaker Jamie Tworkowski.

Tworkowski presented at 3 p.m., calling in from his home in Florida. He discussed his journey with mental health, as well as the foundations and stories behind his organization, To Write Love on Her Arms.

After Tworkowski spoke, closing remarks were made by Jennifer Schneiderman, director of the UNI Counseling Center. For more information on upcoming events or to schedule an appointment with the counseling center, visit counseling.uni.edu.