Opinion: Tackling student mental health at SNU

Nicole Larsen, Reporter

One of the greatest gifts we can give others is the gift of our story and sharing the tools and tricks we have learned to navigate life’s trials. As a person who has struggled with mental illness for the last 16 years, I want to create a safe place for the students at Sierra Nevada College to share their struggles within a peer-supported environment that has the full support of the university.

I recently had the privilege of discussing the club with President Robert Valli and Greg Wagner, the college’s vice president in charge of alliances and partnerships with universities. When Valli heard that I was thinking about starting a group, he requested an interview with me.

“A club of this type of importance and purpose is imperative,” Valli said. “This is something I think is imperative in every campus in America. It really starts in elementary school. The suicide rate for 8-year-olds has never been higher and that is a tragedy.”

I grew up in a chaotic and abusive home. The first time I tried to commit suicide I was 12 years old. The second time I was 21. The third time happened when I was finishing my licensed practical nursing degree in 2006. I was put on a mandatory psychiatric hold and charged with grand theft auto.

The court’s decision was to either lock me up in a psychiatric facility, or send me to prison for 24 years with more than $30,000 of fines. I was in and out of court for seven months and acquitted on temporary insanity. I have been on my recovery journey ever since.

What I was missing in my life was people around me, especially the staff at the nursing school, who could notice the signs of failing mental and emotional health and take action, prioritizing my mental health ahead of my academic progress.

According to an Active Minds survey, 71% of college students will experience a mental health crisis and only 34% of the colleges will know about it. The April 2020 survey included 2,086 students right after the pandemic hit.

This needs to change.

It’s been a long journey for me to achieve a stable and successful life as a person with mental illness.

I know the importance of sleeping well, eating right, taking medication, getting counseling, and the host of other things that it takes to survive and thrive as a person who faces the challenges I do.

In May, it will be 15 years since I was almost locked up. And, unless I tell my story, no one would ever know. I graduated with my AA in English from Sierra College in Rocklin last Spring. I was awarded a scholarship from SNU for my 4.0 GPA and will graduate this December with my bachelor’s in creative writing. I plan to continue college, to earn my master’s degree in creative writing with an emphasis in poetry.

I am living proof that a person with severe and life-changing mental health issues can live a stable and thriving life. Moreover, I am proof that a student doesn’t need to suffer alone, and I want to share what I have learned so students are able to get help without experiencing unnecessary trauma.

I look forward to this amazing opportunity and am grateful and humbled by the tremendous support of the SNU staff.

If you have any questions or suggestions about what you would like to see in this group or when it will start, please feel free to reach me at [email protected]. The group will also be supervised and supported by several staff members at the university with strict ethical policies of the privacy of all group members.

Nicole Larsen is a junior at Sierra Nevada University.