IFC should actively partner with CMHC to better address mental health challenges

Ellie Monday, Columnist

Content warning: This column contains discussion of mental illness and suicide. 

Before college, suicide to me seemed like a distant concept — something intangible. Mental health had always been discussed in school and among family, but the term itself felt too broad and subjective to each individual. Suicide differs; it has concrete meaning. 

However, since starting at UT, I’ve seen suicide make its way into many students’ college experience. 

Suicide remains one of the leading causes of death for college students. Studies show that the suicide death rate in the United States is 13.5 per 100,000 people. However, the rate for males is around four times higher than for females. Suicide prevention efforts and mental health awareness education at UT should be heavily geared toward Interfraternity Council, an at-risk population of young men. 

UT must hold IFC more accountable for mental health awareness.

Generally, student organizations are required to complete a safety education program annually, which aims to make leaders aware of the resources available to their organizations. For Sorority and Fraternity Life, however, UT has expanded its expectations to include its Risk Management Summit and Good Standing Program as well. 

“The goal of the program(s) is to educate chapters and chapter leadership on how to implement prevention efforts within their chapters … and also to empower them to create a culture of care in their organization,” said Jennifer Walker, associate director of prevention and risk management with Sorority and Fraternity Life in the Office of the Dean of Students.

Despite UT’s extended efforts toward risk management for Sorority and Fraternity Life, the implementation and practice of mental health awareness is majorly left to the leadership of the chapters. Most chapters have an executive position for risk management, but the responsibilities vary between sororities, fraternities and individual chapters.

Mathematics freshman Kai Robinson said the culture of mental health in his fraternity has shifted to be more open after a similar tragedy occurred within his chapter last year. 

“The overall chapter risk manager is in charge of all sorts of risks ranging from risk at a party to risk within a fraternity itself, such as mental health,” Robinson said. “But, what the risk (managers) think of more is the kind at a party.”’

IFC declined to comment. 

Men are far less likely to talk about mental health challenges compared to women. While fraternities may benefit from other aspects of “brotherhood,” important topics about men’s well-being can still be overlooked.

“It’s unfortunate, but true that a lot of men who are facing critical emotional distress oftentimes not only don’t seek out help, but also don’t have the coping mechanisms to deal with those situations,” said Justin Carter, the suicide prevention programs coordinator at the Longhorn Wellness Center. 

UT should mandate that fraternities maintain an active partnership with the Counseling and Mental Health Center. A designated mental health consultant for every fraternity may give its members additional resources and help improve a culture of communication around mental health challenges among men.

On the prevention side, the Longhorn Wellness Center has the Mental Health Ambassadors Program which partners with SFL leadership. Requiring an ambassador from each chapter would be a good first step toward expanding mental health programming in Greek life. 

For mental health challenges, there is no passive solution. The University has a responsibility to its students to investigate public health issues and mitigate risks as much as possible. Through obligatory collaboration with fraternities, counselors from the CMHC can have a more active role in assisting this population of young men. 

Monday is a Plan II and health and society freshman from Houston, Texas.