NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Laura Jensen’s interest in psychology has had practical applications since she began studying at Bethel College – which resulted in her being named Kansas Member of the Year by an advocacy organization.
Jensen, a junior from Everest, received the honor at the annual meeting of the Kansas chapter of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Oct. 18 at Fort Hays State University.
Jensen came to Bethel as a freshman in 2011 knowing she was interested in psychology. That has only strengthened as she moves into her third year.
As a freshman, she was also a Service-Learning Scholarship awardee. Marla Krell, Bethel’s director of experiential learning, places Service-Learning Scholarship recipients and tries to find non-profit organizations that align with students’ interests.
In Jensen’s case, Krell decided to connect her with a person rather than an institution – Newton resident Florene Wiens, an active member of the NAMI Mid-Kansas chapter. Wiens’ long history of advocacy for the mentally ill stems from her experience with a close family member.
When Jensen began meeting with Wiens, Bethel Professor of Psychology Paul Lewis “brought up the idea of starting a NAMI chapter at Bethel,” Jensen says. With Wiens’ help, Jensen organized the campus chapter starting in the 2012-13 school year. She served as president both last year and this year.
“NAMI is a grassroots organization that is there to spread the word about mental illness,” Jensen says. It is a support group for family, work associates, friends and acquaintances of those with mental illness
In Bethel’s NAMI group, “we try to bring up mental-health issues that apply to college-age students,” Jensen continues. “This is a time when a lot of mental illnesses can come about, when students are under stress.”
Some of the group’s activities in 2012-13 were bringing speakers to campus from local mental health-care providers such as Prairie View and Health Ministries “to start conversations about mental illness,” Jensen says. “In spring 2013, we had a convo speaker through a program called ‘In Our Own Voice’ that NAMI supports, where people come and tell their stories.”
So far this year, the focus has been on recruiting new members. “The thing about campus clubs is that people graduate, and we had about seven graduate last year,” Jensen says.
The Oct. 18 NAMI conference at Fort Hays included plenary sessions and workshops. Jensen attended four of the latter, including one with Larned mental-health professionals and administrators, and “one on cutting behavior, from a consumer perspective, that was very powerful. I’d like to have the speaker come to campus. So it was a way of making those kinds of connections, too.”
Jensen received the Kansas NAMI Member of the Year award at one of the plenary sessions, which was complete surprise, she says. She found out that the nomination had come from the NAMI Mid-Kansas group.
Jensen says she and Wesley Goodrich, Bethel senior from Independence “were probably the youngest people at the conference except for the Fort Hays students. There are NAMI group affiliates around Kansas, of both consumers and mental-health professionals. Having campus chapters is a newer thing. They’re working to get more started. They’ve made the process easier and more user-friendly.”
Jensen is interested in NAMI because she loves psychology, she says, but also because “when I was going through high school, I had family members dealing with mental illness. I was frustrated because I didn’t have any place to go to find information. [NAMI] is such a valuable resource, especially on campuses, where people are struggling and yet there’s such a stigma [attached] – you’re not supposed to talk about it.”
“Much of the success we have experienced thus far in the [Bethel NAMI] chapter’s establishment we owe to Laura,” says Lewis, the faculty sponsor. “The college-age demographic is extremely important to attract to the good work of NAMI, and Laura is helping to make that happen at Bethel College.”
Bethel College is the only private college in Kansas listed in the 2012-13 Forbes.com analysis of premier colleges and universities in the United States and ranks in the top five “Best Baccalaureate Colleges” in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2012-13. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.