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Nisswa student spreads mental health awareness at BSU

Nisswa resident Elizabeth Thurlow is one of 11 students at Bemidji State University who has formed a Student Mental Health Advisory Board to promote the need for increased access to mental health peer support and awareness on campus.

The group came together after the BSU Student Center for Health and Counseling's Mental Health Panel, held on campus in September 2016. The annual panel discussion has become an increasingly popular and important avenue for students to advocate for mental health awareness and to reduce stigma surrounding the issue.

Thurlow is one of the new group's founding members and hopes the advisory board can create a culture of support for students with mental health-related issues.

"I really wanted to get started just by creating a foundation here at Bemidji State University," she said in a news release. "I do know we have some services available, but I do know there is always room for improvement, and there's always the need for improvement ... I would personally love to see some type of QPR (Question, Persuade and Refer) training that deals with suicide prevention awareness."

The advisory board serves BSU's student body by spreading awareness about mental health issues affecting students, investigating and implementing peer support options, working to reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues and creating a welcome and accepting campus environment.

Lora Bertelsen, a counselor at BSU's Student Center for Health and Counseling, recognizes that students know what students need and therefore should be involved in making decisions.

"They have very important insight on the best way to offer services for students impacted by mental illness," she said. "We will provide information on SCHC counseling services priorities and protocols. Group members will then be asked to problem solve, brainstorm and advise the counseling staff on the best ways to meet student mental health needs."

Along with making an impact on their community, board members will also have the opportunity for personal growth and preparation for life.

"Students will learn how to talk about difficult topics, build skills for improving their own mental health, become more engaged in campus life and increase confidence for other leadership roles," Bertelsen said. "Student board members will be empowered to identify the most effective and efficient way to use limited counseling resources to support the mental health needs of BSU students."