UWO’s new mental health awareness campaign aimed at veterans

Published: Mar. 25, 2021 at 5:45 PM CDT
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OSHKOSH, Wis. (WBAY) - UW-Oshkosh recently kicked off a new mental health campaign, targeted toward a particularly vulnerable population.

“I’ve known enough individuals in my career that have taken their own lives,” said Aaron Kloss, a UWO graduation examiner who also served 17 years in the Army National Guard.

The fact that a 2018 Veterans Affairs study found veterans are one and a half times more likely to die by suicide doesn’t surprise him.

“I’ve known about three, so if you think that every person that has served probably knows two or three, that number is just staggering,” said Kloss.

To him, one of the biggest struggles he finds common among military members is repression.

“We run into situations where you have students that do multiple, like me I did three deployments overseas, you know, instead of dealing with that first one and then moving on to the second it’s just repress, repress, repress, repress. Gets a little bit worse every time,” said Kloss. “And then when you finally get out that’s when it all comes.”

UWO recently received a donation for suicide prevention from Oshkosh Corporation, allowing its current efforts to expand on campus.

“One of the things we wanted to do was to really target vulnerable populations, and we know student veterans are a vulnerable population. So this program started that way,” said UWO Counseling Center Director Sandra Cox.

The “United We Stand” campaign got started a couple months ago. It’s a collaborative effort between UWO’s Counseling Center and Veterans Resource Center.

“Basically trying to get veterans just to pay attention to their mental health and realize you need to see that as much as your physical health and to try to support all different ways to find new ways of coping,” said Cox. “We want them to be able to communicate when they’re struggling, and to feel okay about that, and then also to seek resources out from professionals when needed.”

Gail Larson works in UWO student accounts. She as well as her parents, husband, and sons all served in the air force.

But it wasn’t until Larson heard of her son’s struggles that her desire to raise awareness began.

“When I know that it’s my children dealing with those difficulties, it’s much harder to listen to. And it does kind of open your eyes to different areas in the military that have much more stigma about being tough than other areas might be,” said Larson.

Larson and Kloss believe that stigma is a reason why many veterans don’t seek counseling or help.

“There’s definitely a culture and a stigma, especially in the military, where you have to be tough and you have to never show your weak side, because that’s a way that somebody can get at you,” said Larson. “So seeking help tends to be a little more of like a weakness for them.”

“I know one of the barriers that kept me, and a lot of the barriers that I’ve talked with other individuals about, is we compare ourselves to others. And we say, you know, ‘What do I have to complain about this person has it so much worse than I do,’” said Kloss. “But we need to realize that we all deal with these things in different ways, you know, everybody’s experience is different.”

The campaign utilizes some of the faculty and student veterans, having them reach out and share their own stories. There are also flyers around campus and a dedicated web page on the university’s site that provides resources.

“It’s really important for them to remember that there’s help out there for all of those hills that they’re having to try and get over, don’t give up,: said Larson. “If one area or path doesn’t work for you look for another one. There’s so many resources out there for you.”

So far, Cox says it’s been going well.

“It’s been wonderful working with Veteran Resource Center, they’ve really just taken this on and realize how important it is, I think that the veterans have really felt like they can contribute to the students’ mental health, and really help them to validate how important it is to seek some resources out when you’re struggling,” said Cox. “But it’s been a wonderful thing with a lot of passion involved in it. So I’m really I’m really happy with the outcome of what’s going on.”

The ultimate hope for all involved is that United We Stand can make a difference.

“If we can stop even one person, if we can help one person seek help, I mean that’s a victory in my book,” said Kloss.

Learn more about the campaign HERE.

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