Over 240 people gathered in the Varsity Theater Thursday morning for the semester’s final Perspective Education Narrative Talk, more commonly known as PEN Talk.
BYUSA President Simeon Toronto and Vice President Dilan Maxfield started PEN Talks, which feature a number of panelists who discuss topics and questions related to the forum’s theme.
The theme for the Thursday’s PEN Talk was mental health. Discussion panelists included BYU students Brandon Baggett, Chloé Lindsey, Coleman Packer, Kylee Marshall and Ian Kahng, with Klint Hobbs, a psychologist in Counseling and Psychological Services, as the moderator.
Maxfield opened the event by expressing PEN Talk forums are meant to be a safe space where students can discuss and learn about important social issues and topics happening at BYU.
Questions for the forum focused on how to create a space for friends and loved ones to share their feelings, finding motivation while dealing with depression and how to help people who come from various cultures and backgrounds start their own discussions.
Panelists suggested a good way to create a safe space is by showing someone you care for them, having an open mind and being vulnerable.
“For people like me, it’s really, really important they know you are not someone who is going to be judgmental, especially with LGTBQ issues or mental health,” Coleman said. “Show from day one you are someone that accepts who they are. It’s important to show above anything else you are willing to listen.”
Panelists said finding motivation while dealing with depression comes through personal experience and techniques. Lindsey said her motivation comes through holding onto little things that make her happy. Marshall focused on and reiterated the importance of not experiencing these problems alone.
“If you need help in some of these things and they seem really overwhelming and you can’t do things by yourself, you don’t have to do them by yourself. Whether it’s therapy or a friend or someone else, reaching out for support can be really helpful,” Marshall said. “I think getting that one-on-one, personalized, tailored time to you and your specific needs and unique situation can be really helpful and beneficial.”
Baggett said an effective tool during times of extremely low points in his life has been to prepare during the high points by creating a checklist of things to do before resorting to harmful coping mechanisms.
“That way the choice is already made. Because it’s not going to be found during the perils of depression, I promise you that. You have to do it now at the high points,” Baggett said.
On the topic of cultures that aren’t very open to mental health discussion, Coleman and Kahng both spoke about talking about emotions as men. Kahng said change starts from the ground up and that everyone, regardless of their background, should talk about things that are less comfortable.
Coleman said he believes toxic masculinity is a severe social crisis. Coleman also said there tends to be a complex, especially in the United States, that men fear they will be perceived as homosexual if they are more sensitive or emotional.
“If they speak out about it, it’s not masculine,” Coleman said. “We really need to confront that head on. That’s ridiculous. People need to talk about how they feel. That’s just critical.”
Lindsey reiterated the importance of not putting one’s own mental health at risk because of another person.
“Sometimes you have to become confident in yourself and choose yourself and say, ‘I’m going to take care of my mental health,'” Lindsey said.
During her closing remarks, Lindsey invited the whole room to repeat “Therapy is for everyone,” and reminded them, “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.”
Closing the fifth and final PEN Talk of the academic year, Maxfield said he’s been overwhelmed by the support he and Toronto have received from the forums.
“It’s one of the most important programs I think we’ve done at BYUSA. Students who may have felt disenfranchised perhaps have a place now they can talk about issues they’re going through and feel like BYU is changing in its rhetoric towards those who are marginalized here,” Maxfield said. “I like to think that it’s setting the university culture in the right direction.”
Toronto said it feels like BYU and the student body has become a little more like family.
“That’s a really important feeling. That everyone who needs to have a voice has been able to share their experience and share their story, and at the end, everyone feels a little more together,” Toronto said. “Looking back 10 years from now, even 20 years from now, I know Dilan and I will never be able to forget the family and inclusion that came from PEN Talks.”
Maxfield said BYUSA will continue to host PEN Talks next year and it will become a yearly program.