Cowboys United for Mental Health 2023 raises more than $275,000
Thursday, December 21, 2023
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This fall, the Cowboy family did what it does best — supported each other.
To honor World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10, Oklahoma State University launched Cowboys United for Mental Health 2023. The five-day campaign aimed to increase mental health services for students across the OSU system.
For the second year, the campaign was an incredible success, raising $278,037 from 611 donors. Thanks to the generosity of the Merrick Foundation, along with a 1959 psychology alumnus and a Tulsa-based foundation who wished to remain anonymous, the first $150,000 was matched dollar-for-dollar.
Last year’s inaugural campaign allowed the university to offer more counseling sessions and hire more staff to increase access and decrease wait times. This year’s campaign will make an even greater impact, said Adrian Matthys, assistant vice president of annual giving at the OSU Foundation.
“Cowboys United for Mental Health 2023 was a huge success largely because of the he said. “Thanks to the generosity of our donors, more than 400 students benefited from additional mental health services. OSU was able to increase the number of free counseling sessions from four to six. That’s incredible. This year’s campaign provides the university with the financial resources to expand on that success.”
The more than $275,000 raised in 2023 will fund the hiring of more graduate students to continue to meet students’ needs as well as offer more virtual counseling options and referral support services.
“When I think back to my darkest times, I wish someone could have told me that they made it through so I can, too. Now years later, I have made it my life ’s mission to help at least one person see the beauty and light that tomorrow brings.”
“Cowboys United for Mental Health has shown the true culture of care here at OSU,” said Dr. Doug Hallenbeck, OSU vice president of student affairs. “Through their generosity, we have increased access to mental health support across the OSU System. We not only improve students’ lives, we may very well have saved some, too.”
On World Mental Health Day, more than 10 student organizations participated in the Cowboy Carnival, an event focused on raising mental health awareness and education at OSU. The evening’s festivities also featured games, free snow cones and popcorn as well as $10 mechanical bull rides with all proceeds supporting Cowboys United for Mental Health.
“We are humbled by the generosity of the Cowboy family,” said Rebecca Nievar, director of annual giving at the OSU Foundation. “It’s a remarkable achievement to see the entire OSU community galvanized by this cause and inspired to support each other. We all want OSU students to be successful, and this campaign makes it possible for the university to support students so they can reach their full potential.”
Garrin Morlan, OSU alumna and current graduate assistant in the Department of Wellness, is passionate about mental health. As an undergraduate, she helped launch OSU’s chapter of Active Minds, a student organization that focuses on increasing mental health awareness and suicide prevention. Her own mental health struggles, including suicide attempts and healing, ignited her advocacy.
“I found myself struggling in silence for a really long time,” Morlan said. “At the age of 16, I thought dying might be easier than living. Fortunately, I had an amazing family who got me the services I needed, and to this day, I want others to know there are people out there who have made it and they can make it, too.”
Morlan’s journey demonstrates that she not only survived her bout with mental illness, but she is thriving.
“When I think back to my darkest times, I wish someone could have told me that they made it through so I can, too. Now years later, I have made it my life’s mission to help at least one person see the beauty and light that tomorrow brings,” she said.
Hallenbeck said OSU offers an array of services and resources to address students’ mental health needs.
“We provide a comprehensive approach to mental health and mental well-being,” Hallenbeck said. “Our services are geared toward increasing prevention resources and support, intervention support and care, and follow-up support. Cowboys United for Mental Health has been a huge catalyst in our ability to improve the lives of our students.”
Cowboys United for Mental Health 2023 concluded on Oct. 14, the same day as the Cowboys’ home football game against Kansas. In concert with the campaign, OSU Athletics focused on mental health on game day and amplified the message that OSU cares about the mental wellness of all its students.
“Without a doubt, the Cowboy family looks out for each other,” Nievar said. “It’s been inspiring to experience the amazing collaboration and partnerships across the OSU System to ensure our students’ mental health is a priority.”
For more information on how you can support mental health services at OSU, contact Annie Wells at awells@OSUgiving.com or 918-282-0422.
The Cowboy family takes care of each other, and the university offers a wide-range of mental health resources for its students. Cowboys United for Mental Health is a campaign that directly supports OSU students in need. Six students have shared their story to let their peers know they don’t have to struggle alone.
RanDea Bryant didn’t see much promotion for mental health services while going on college visits. At least not until she toured OSU.
As she walked around campus, she noticed numerous signs and advertisements for mental health resources and received even more information from her tour guide. OSU wants its students to know it is here to support them, and that ultimately played a role in Bryant’s college decision.
“Coming here, I have heard about so many different resources,” Bryant said. “I feel like OSU actually cares about their students and pushes for mental health. We hear it in everyday conversations around campus.”
Throughout her time at OSU, Bryant has found therapy extremely helpful for managing her mental wellness. She has taken advantage of the counseling services on campus, including the free sessions offered to every student.
Last year’s Cowboys United for Mental Health campaign provided funding that allowed OSU to increase the number of free counseling sessions per student from four to six.
“Students should utilize the free counseling sessions and the other great resources we have, whether they are struggling or not,” Bryant said. “I tell people all the time, use those up. Not every college has those opportunities. So if we are given these resources, take them.”
Dylan Prater’s problems were right in front of him, but he couldn’t find a way past them.
As someone with general anxiety disorder, worries can feel insurmountable. But, therapy has helped him through some of his lowest points. Along with learning to recognize bad habits, he was given strategies to combat his issues.
“I was thinking about these things that I was running into and problems I was having that I could probably fix, but there was no plan — it was only pain,” Prater said. “Therapy taught me lessons about how to cope in a healthy way.”
At OSU, Prater has also used the Reboot Center in the Student Union as a way to recharge. It’s designed to be a calming place where students, faculty and staff can listen to music, do relaxing activities and even take a nap.
The Reboot Center was critical in helping Prater to destress in between his two jobs he worked last year.
“The message I would provide to students struggling with their mental well-being is to seek out help not because it will fix you, but so that it can help you fix yourself,” Prater said. “Secondly, don’t wait until it gets extremely dire to reach out, that just makes it 10 times harder.”
Jaycee Mathews has had to learn to say no.
A Tuttle, Oklahoma, native, Mathews quickly found success at OSU. In just her freshman year, she was an honors student, a freshman research scholar and submitted a Wentz research proposal.
But she didn’t realize she had severely overextended herself. It culminated into a massive case of burnout that resulted in a major depressive episode. She also faced financial difficulties and an uncooperative family that led to her becoming food insecure.
“To me, there’s this glorification of giving everything you absolutely can — even to the detriment of yourself,” Mathews said. “I think in general there’s become a bit of a culture where you just do what you have to do in college, and you make whatever compromises with yourself that you have to. That’s kind of a really horrible mindset to have.”
With the guidance of a professor, Mathews found her way to OSU Case Management, which is housed within the Office of Student Support and Conduct. It’s a resource that connects students with case managers who serve as path-clearers and problem-solvers for issues related to mental health, academic, relationship, food insecurity and other stressful crises.
Mathews has had three case managers while at OSU, and her experience with them has been life-changing.
“All three of my case managers have been the most empathetic and sweet people,” Mathews said. “It’s just been a really cool experience, especially for students who don’t have a large support system.”
Mathews has since been diagnosed with ADHD and receives medication from University Health Services. While she still has her fair share of struggles, her improvement allowed her to move into this year optimistically.
“OSU fosters an especially caring group of people, and students need to understand that there are people here specifically to help them,” Mathews said.
As a five-year student-athlete and current graduate student, juggling responsibilities has become second nature to Morgyn Wynne.
She was named a Senior of Significance for her work in and out of the classroom and was a staple in the lineup for the Cowgirl softball team in last year’s Women’s College World Series. Despite her achievements, it hasn’t always been easy.
When Wynne transferred to OSU following her junior season, she didn’t realize she was still battling depression. Being in a new environment as well as the pressures of playing for a high-level program weighed on her and caused her to spiral. This time, her depression came on much more aggressively.
“At first, I was trying to muscle through it and deal with it all on my own,” Wynne said. “I guess part of me thought I was strong enough … that I’ve recovered before so I could do it again.”
It boiled over to a point that Wynne knew she needed to ask for help. She approached her trainer, who had her meet with a psychiatrist and sports psychologist in the athletic department. From there, she was set up with a therapist through University Health Services.
In the past year, Wynne said she has been at her healthiest.
“Everything gets easier when you realize you don’t have to fight through it alone,” Wynne said. “Take that huge step and ask for help. There are so many resources for you at OSU to get you the help you need and make your experience as a student what it should be.”
To many, starting college is one of the most exciting times of their life. For others, the transition can be challenging.
Hayleigh Lamb, who moved to Stillwater from Tulsa, didn’t expect to feel so isolated when she arrived at OSU.
“You come here and it’s like a fresh slate,” Lamb said. “In many ways, that’s good. But in other ways, it’s very intimidating. It can be really lonely trying to find yourself, and on top of that there’s also a lot of pressure on you to know what you want to do with your life.”
Lamb struggled with various social situations and, she encountered an intense bout of seasonal depression toward the end of the fall semester of her freshman year. Her grades slipped to an all-time low.
But with the help of her therapist, who she has been seeing since high school, her mental health is now on a steep, positive incline. Through time and experience, Lamb has learned a lot about herself and how to work through her negative experiences.
“Just know that no feeling truly lasts forever,” Lamb said. “It does get better, especially once you can find some motivation to be happier and be better. I think that’s attainable for everyone. Help is out there, and once you get it, the world really is a much brighter place.”
Corinne Kissel’s mental health has been a roller coaster during her OSU career.
She has been incredibly involved on campus, including initiation into Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, spending three years in the Cowboy Marching Band, serving as a tour guide and currently working in the OSU Athletics department. These activities have brought her some of her favorite memories.
But it’s also a lot to manage, especially while struggling with issues such as imposter syndrome, financial anxiety and body image issues.
“I’ve had to learn to place value and worth in myself before I place value in my schoolwork, friendships, accomplishments and social status,” Kissel said “Those are all worldly, fluid things and don’t make me who I am.”
Kissel has utilized Therapy Assistance Online (TAO), a resource offered free to every OSU student to help her learn how to handle her anxiety and other issues. It’s an online library of interactive programs that are tailored to a wide range of problems students may face.
Kissel said it’s a great resource that more people should use, especially for those who are hesitant to try in-person therapy.
“I find using traditional therapy to be a bit overwhelming,” Kissel said. “Just walking into that room … it feels a bit sterile for me. So just going online and using TAO and then being able to process it on my own time has been very useful for me.
“Healing is so joyful. It’s not always fun, and it is so hard, but being able to see yourself for who you are is such a beautiful thing. Life is wonderful. We should all experience it together.”
Photos by: Estefania Martinez and Samantha Hardy
Story by: Samantha Hardy and Grant Ramirez | STATE Magazine