Mary Gutierrez was a brilliant student who wanted to be a pharmacist, but her anxiety made her increasingly afraid of public speaking.
Even as a Pharm.D. student, “I was never involved with any events where I needed to speak because I tried to avoid them,” she recalls.
“Hiding behind my anxiety disorder, I got very interested in psychiatry. When I learned about anxiety disorders from my professors, I was inspired and hoped to make a difference for myself and others suffering from mental illnesses.”
After earning her Pharm.D. and completing post-graduate training in psychiatric pharmacy, Gutierrez was offered her first faculty position and “took a leap of faith.” She went on to teach at another university, then Chapman University School of Pharmacy as professor of pharmacy practice. She has overcome most of her anxiety symptoms.
“When you are passionate about helping others, nothing will get in the way,” she says. “I appreciate all who accommodated my anxiety disorder as I teach my students about mental health. We need to destigmatize mental illnesses and reach out to more people who may need help.”
To that end, Gutierrez, along with staff and faculty from Chapman’s School of Pharmacy and Crean College of Health and Behavioral Sciences are holding a Mental Health Awareness Fair May 19 at Rinker Campus. All Chapman students, faculty and staff can attend the first-time event.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. From noon to 1 p.m. May 16-18, student leaders from Cream and the School of Pharmacy will be available at Rinker to speak about mental health topics, and offer “swag” and prizes. At the May 19 fair, scheduled 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m., attendees can do fun activities to relieve stress like spending time with therapy dogs, doing yoga, and rock painting. Mental health resources will be available, along with healthy snacks and stress balls, water bottles and more.
Organizers, who came together as the Mental Health Awareness Task Force, hope to expand the event to the Orange campus next year.
Caryn Ito, assistant professor of physical therapy, says her students seemed very stressed since the pandemic started. Although she knew where to send them to get help, there was “not an emphasis on the preventive component, how to draw awareness to that so that the students don’t get to the point where they’re in crisis, or they need to go see, speak to somebody,” she says.
“Is there something we can do to educate the students, as well as the faculty and staff, on how to be more proactive instead of worrying about mental health as a negative, promoting it more as a positive? How do we stay healthy?” she recalls asking during conversations with colleagues.
“Everybody at Rinker was on board, because I had a sense that all the other professions and faculty felt the same way,” she says.
Julie Barbour, a licensed therapist who supports the campus community at Rinker, says the fair is timely considering events of the last few years. She wants to give students and others practical resources, including how technology can support mental health.
“I think we’re at an interesting time to deal with that stigma, I think people are more ready,” she says. “The week we’re trying to put together can deal with destigmatization.”
Organizers say that even with increasing mental health awareness, there is cultural bias and generation gaps.
“One of the things I really appreciate about this Generation Z, is that they’re literally rewriting the script on how we see things, how we talk about things. There’s definitely a lot more openness to looking at things through a different lens,” Barbour says. “But we have people coming into therapy not wanting their parents to know. It continues to create that divide.”
Jessica Hua, a clinical education specialist in the Department of Physical Therapy, says the event will offer “time to sit as a community in person.”
“I think tackling those barriers and bringing resources to people can help relieve some of that stress,” she says.
Barbour says the event reflects the care that faculty have for their students.
“The students will know: faculty members believe in you, staff are here to support you,” she says.
Jerika Lam, associate professor in the School of Pharmacy, says that Hua got students involved with planning some of the event’s activities and asked for “their perspective on what they felt like they need, what information they want, and incorporated it.”
“Everyone pulling together and bringing in their level of expertise has us really, really excited for this event. I think it’s really going to be a well rounded event,” Lam says.