Health Care Organizations Aim to Prevent Mental Health and Substance Abuse Issues at YSU

By Brianna Gleghorn

Students of different backgrounds and lifestyles are working to obtain an education at Youngstown State University, but within that comes various obstacles.

Meridian HealthCare and the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board have partnered with YSU to create prevention programs for students to turn to in times of need. 

Through a grant awarded to a staff member at Meridian, the prevention of mental health issues and substance abuse through events and programs on campus will be a focus.

Mason Edmunds, YSU alumnus and prevention specialist at Meridian, said he is tasked with developing prevention programs to reach students before mental health or substance abuse issues arise.

The new prevention programs will help YSU students improve their mental health and discourage substance abuse. Photo by Brianna Gleghorn/The Jambar

“It’s my goal here to not only make students aware of the resources they have from a physical and mental wellness standpoint but to also put in place and develop new preventative programs for students based around mental health therapy and things of that nature,” Edmunds said.

He said it gives him a different perspective for program ideas with his original “theater roots.”

“It gives me a unique spin in this position because I bring in some kind of outside-the-box ideas,” he said.

According to Edmunds, his position is not only an interesting experience, it is also fulfilling, allowing him to give back to the university he once attended.

“A lot of the reason that I’ve been brought in here is to make students aware of the resources that they already have and then put in place new projects and new programs that again help bolster the idea of stress relief, stress management and mental health therapy in general,” he said.

In Edmunds’ opinion, students in college are in the “forming years of their lives.”

“I think it’s really important to try and equip [students] with tools that they can carry forward,” he said. “As the stresses of school weigh on students, the expectations of finding a career, all of these things, they can become very mentally taxing.”

Joy Polkabla Byers, executive director of the Andrews Student Recreation Center, said the purpose of these programs is to reach students before they feel any kind of need for assistance.  

“With the limited resources that we currently have on campus, with our counselors in that providing mental health services to students, we really needed to look at it from a different approach versus treatment versus prevention,” Polkabla Byers said.

A sober tailgate at a YSU football game and educational classroom visits are a few of the prevention opportunities put into place during the fall semester.

The new healthcare prevention programs will help YSU students improve their mental health and discourage substance abuse. Photo by Brianna Gleghorn/ The Jambar

“We’re looking at art therapy or music therapy. Some unique things to provide to students,” Polkabla Byers said. “Some creative outlets, but actually helping them to reduce their stress to help them be more academically successful at YSU.”

Nikunj Patel, director of community outreach at Meridian HealthCare, is a YSU alumnus and said making an impact on the lives of young individuals is what the YSU community needs.

“[YSU] has been kind to me,” Patel said. “It provided me with a lot of support and different ways. It’s cool that I get to give back to the community and the school that’s given to me, and now I get to do it in an official capacity.” 

In Patel’s opinion, college is “an existential part of life.” 

“It’s an easy time to slip into negative patterns as well as good patterns, so I think it’s such a crucial age to be able to provide some education and awareness,” Patel said. 

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