Texas Christian University graduate student Erica Ortega struggles daily with her husband’s death three years ago.

Ortega uses therapy and her support system of friends and family to process her loss. A recent mental health event resonated deeply with her.

On a hot summer afternoon, a room full of TCU faculty, staff and students attended a prevention workshop where they grew emotional and shared vulnerable stories about why discussions about mental health should be moved forward to create more awareness. 

“It’s important for me to be able to use the tools and resources for personal reasons and, as a training clinician, in hopes that I can contribute to veterans and adults,” said Ortega, who added that she chose to study mental health because she observed how her father endured post-traumatic stress disorder as a war veteran.

TCU’s efforts to encourage mental health conversation

The event was designed to increase awareness because mental health problems either merge, escalate or get created between the ages of 18 and 24, said Eric Wood, the university’s director of counseling and mental health. 

Chris and Martha Thomas, co-founders of The Defensive Line, hosted the event. Together with their son, NFL player and Coppell High School graduate Solomon Thomas, Chris and Martha Thomas created the organization to honor their daughter, Ella, who died by suicide

Attendees practice hand-breathing exercises led by Martha Thomas, co-founder of The Defensive Line, on July 12, 2023, at TCU’s Debate Chambers inside Scharbauer Hall. The Defensive Line was created by the Thomas family to honor their daughter, Ella, who died by suicide. (Dang Le | Fort Worth Report)

Resources are available for those living with mental health issues

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 988
  • Crisis Text Line: Text TX to 741741
  • The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386 or text “TREVOR” to 1-202-304120
  • Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 Press 1 or text to 838255

Click here for more resources

Before the afternoon event, Solomon Thomas came in the morning to speak with the TCU football team about the importance of mental health awareness. Wood also shares research and experience about his Comprehensive Collaborative Care Model.   

The counseling model focuses on crisis response services, peer-support communities and community partners to meet students’ needs. Wood recently met with nine other universities to share the model. 

Faculty is also an important part of the conversation, Wood said, as more than 80% of clients at counseling centers — including TCU — who asked for help were nudged by someone else.

“Because you get so busy as a faculty and grading and class, and everything’s high-paced. But just be aware, statistically, someone in your class is going to be struggling,” he said.

TCU graduate student Audrey Gandy, who has been in the mental health field for about six years, said she always wants to be more prepared with up-to-date information to handle clients or research participants. 

Through the university, Gandy said, she has also had training for recovery from substance abuse on campus and microaggressions, which are common daily interactions that may intentionally or unintentionally show bias toward historically marginalized groups.

“People are affected by mental health every day, so it’s really important because you never know who could be dealing with it,” she said. 

Eric Wood, the university’s director of counseling and mental health, talks to attendees at a mental health workshop for faculty, staff and students July 12, 2023, at TCU’s Debate Chambers inside Scharbauer Hall. Wood has spent his summer discussing a new counseling model developed by TCU. (Dang Le | Fort Worth Report)

Minorities suffer from mental health issues

The Defensive Line serves everybody, but it focuses its conversations about serving young people of color

The Healthy Minds Network, a research organization focusing on adolescent and young adult mental health, found a stark increase in the percentage of college students who attempted suicide in 2022. In addition, Pacific Islander, Native American and Black college students reported higher suicide rates than other groups.

All who attended the event, like Ortega, had their own stories. 

TCU graduate student Charli Texada didn’t feel she belonged in her mental health practitioner undergraduate program because she was often the only Black person in a few of her classes.

It’s difficult when people don’t believe she can be in the field or graduate top of the class because of her skin color, she said. But the program and its professors have come a long way in making it more inclusive, and she wants to be a part of the change to help future generations. 

“It’s hard being a minority at an all-white school,” Texada said, choking up. 

TCU program coordinator Tracy Hicks feels responsible for encouraging her students to not just practice but also feel empowered when doing so.

As a minority faculty in the mental health field who has witnessed microaggressions toward her students, Hicks said, she can sit in anger — or she can be the change. 

Nothing changes by being upset, and she feels empowered to get involved to make things better for other people, she said.

“And hopefully, while doing that, I’m making things better for myself,” Hicks said. 

Dang Le is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at dang.le@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

Creative Commons License

Noncommercial entities may republish our articles for free by following our guidelines. For commercial licensing, please email hello@fortworthreport.org.

Dang Le is a reporting fellow. He can be reached at dang.le@fortworthreport.org. Le has a journalism degree from the University of Texas at Arlington. He was the editor-in-chief at The Shorthorn, UTA’s...