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The Alabama Department of Mental Health (ADMH) recently honored a pair of Tuskegee University professionals with its 2019 Respect Awards for their outreach efforts and services to students regarding mental health and substance abuse challenges. Dr. Deloris Alexander, director of the Integrative Biosciences Ph.D. program, and Ardelia Lunn, counseling coordinator for the university’s Wellness Center, were both honored with the award during the spring semester.
The annual Respect Award, presented by ADMH’s Office of Peer Programs and Alabama Directions Council, recognizes individuals who are consistently respectful and supportive of individuals with mental illness. The award’s acronym represents its recipients’ characteristics: responsive, encouraging, sensitive, perceptive, expediting, caring and thoughtful. Award winners are chosen from among nominees by a committee made up entirely of mental health services consumers.
“I am not a mental health professional — I’m microbiologist, immunologist, parasitologist, and I’ve never received any formal training in mental health,” Alexander explained. “It only took students self-reporting to me that they had suicidal ideations and were either stressed or depressed to make me aware of the mental health crisis that exists on college campuses — and among the U.S. population as a whole.”
Dr. April Jones, head of Tuskegee’s Department of Social Work, explained that she considered Alexander to be among many faculty and staff who were well deserving of the recognition when she nominated Alexander for the award earlier this year.
“Dr. Alexander is contributing to the solution for caring for mental health — an issue that is often silent and carries a stigma in all ethnic communities and college campuses,” Jones said. “She has worked countless hours outside her primary job duties to identify the best approaches for mental awareness and wellness on our campus.”
Alexander said she too was aware of the award, but without knowledge of her own pending nomination, considered the Wellness Center’s Lunn to be an ideal nominee.
“Mrs. Lunn has such a Herculean task, and she manages to keep things [in the university’s Wellness Center] moving forward. We really owe her a lot of thanks for all that she’s done,” Alexander noted.
Alexander said receiving the Respect Award has further motivated her to shine the light on mental health and related services at Tuskegee.
“You don’t have to be a mental health professional — you just need to have the proper training to help aid in becoming more effective in engaging with students and members of your community about mental wellness,” Alexander said.
One tangible outcome of that motivation has been Alexander’s involvement in organizing the Tuskegee University Active Minds chapter, which will provide another layer of mental health infrastructure at the university.
“My hope is that we can all learn about mental health and what to do. We need to have more productive conversations and more preventative practices in place for our students,” she explained.
The student-led and student-focused mental health advocacy group will be the first HBCU-based chapter in the state. Alexander said she is proud to have this chapter on campus and of the work doctoral students in the integrative biosciences and material science and engineering programs have provided starting the chapter and working diligently to support it.
“I think it’s important that we create and provide safe spaces for our students. They have to find outlets, and we should be able to accommodate their needs,” Alexander said.
“Simply stated, mental health affects every aspect of our life – how we think, feel and act. It’s important to openly talk about mental health since addressing concerns such as stress, anxiety and loneliness, can possibly prevent “higher-level” concerns or a major crisis,” said Lunn.
Lunn added that even openly talking about “higher-level” concerns such as major depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts, for some could be a life-saving opportunity.
In addition, Lunn said that receiving the RESPECT Award was a humbling experience as well as confirmation that Wellness Center is moving in the right direction as a unit and campus community.
“We are eliminating the stigma of counseling and we are communicating, educating, assisting and expanding resources to address mental health and related topics,” noted Lunn.
Tuskegee University students turn to the Lunn and her colleague, Warrena Millon in the Wellness Center for individual and group counseling services in a supportive and confidential environment. The staff serves students who may be experiencing difficulty or need support with personal and social issues, academics, stress, anxiety, grief, relationships, sexuality or family matters.
For more information about the Wellness Center, visit www.tuskegee.edu/wellnesscenter.
© 2019, Tuskegee University