Mental health fair spreads awareness for programs amid pandemic

OSWEGO, N.Y. – Students and staff gathered Sept. 1 between Marano Campus Center and Penfield Library as exhibitors promoted mental health awareness efforts as mental health concerns increased during the pandemic.

The Mental Health and Wellness Fair featured organizations that represented eight pillars of health – emotional, spiritual, social, environmental, occupational, financial, physical and intellectual.

Being able to see the need from another perspective and help other students through the process is the most important aspect of It’s On Oz intern Mackenzie Mikula’s involvement with the organization, she said.

“I think mental health is something that a lot of college students struggle with,” Mikula said. “I think that during COVID we were all forced to spend time with ourselves and I think that in doing that a lot of us have learned how to better ourselves and our mental health.”

Other factors leading to mental health issues among college students was the restrictions placed upon being able to socialize and remain within one’s “bubble,” said It’s On Oz intern Jade Druar, who was representing the organization along with Mikula at the event.

“[Being restricted] can bring a lot of mental health problems, such as social anxiety,” Druar said. “Advocating for these things is extremely important to have here on campus.”

For Mikula, spreading awareness through campaigns or events such as the fair is important, she said, because “these times can be extremely hard for college students.”

“Being more aware of different circumstances can help people get help if they need it, and also spread awareness to other people who might need it,” Mikula said.

For college students, some factors that can spark mental health conversations include stress, overworking or not spending enough time socializing, Druar said.

In order to prevent its students from suffering from mental health complications, the State University of New York (SUNY) announced last summer a $24 million investment across its 64 campuses.

That funding adds up to the $35 million raised by individual campuses.

All of that adds up to a tally of $59 million aimed toward protecting SUNY students from suffering from mental health.

But aside from campus organizations, there were outside groups present at the event.

One of them is Paws of CNY, a local nonprofit providing counseling through service animals across Onondaga, Oswego, Cortland Madison and Cayuga counties.

Jay Peacock, who was at the fair with his dog Harley, “as in Davidson,” has been a volunteer with the organization for the past three years.

“What’s happened over the last 20 months, we’ve been laid off, so we’ve had dogs pass away because they are mainly older dogs,” Peacock said. “We’re down to probably one-third of what we had; we had around 100 dogs and others at one point.”

While dogs make up for the majority of pets at the organization, they also rely on cats and others in order to provide their services, although dogs make up the majority, Peacock said.

“He likes to be with people and he likes to be with other dogs,” Peacock said of Harley as he provided him with some treats.

Peacock said he and Harley also volunteer at nursing homes as well as the SUNY Upstate Medical University hospital.