College presents a wealth of opportunities for students to explore new things about the world, their chosen careers and themselves. But the pressure to succeed academically and make new friends while living in an unfamiliar place can also make the college years a time of great anxiety and stress. According to a report released in 2019 by the American College Health Association, 66 percent of undergraduates experienced overwhelming anxiety, and 46 percent were extremely depressed at some point during the previous school year.
Because he’s seen a number of people in his own life struggle with these issues, Parker Barrett, Virginia Tech ’21, felt something needed to be done to increase mental health awareness on his campus. So, he decided to run as SigEp’s candidate for his school’s homecoming court on the platform Building Healthier Brains. Since 2015, candidates for Virginia Tech’s homecoming court have run on platforms supporting community service and various causes. The winners receive funding and university support to implement programming aligning with their platforms.
While serving as chapter president, he started an event called Sound Mind Sunday to create a safe space where brothers could discuss mental health and vulnerability without feeling judged. Barrett said the idea came to him after he attended the 2017 Conclave, where he heard about a similar initiative at SigEp’s Pennsylvania chapter. Barrett led the event once or twice a month following chapter meetings during his term.
“We structured the events to include guided discussions. However, the strength was in the fact that everyone present was willing to take the time to listen to their brothers and be vulnerable, which encouraged bonding and helped people build a support system they could trust,” Barrett explained.
Although he was not elected to the court, Barrett is still committed to bringing more awareness to this issue. He plans to reach out to university administrators to discuss a program he spearheaded at Virginia Kappa and share ideas about how to make more mental health resources available to all student organizations. Since student leaders must take at least one university-sponsored workshop in areas like conflict management and leadership development to maintain their organization’s official status with Virginia Tech, Barrett is seeking to add a training on mental health. He hopes that by providing training on mental health to all student organizations, more students will know they’re not alone.