By Iji O. Solomon
Have you noticed an advert on the school notice board for some time that there is free mental health service for students, offered by the school counselor Mr. Levente Somogyi on Tuesdays from 10 am-1pm without any need for going off campus to schedule an appointment?
I set out to talk to his office to meet the mental health counselor, and really understand what he had to offer for students. We exchanged pleasantries and I explained my mission to the welcoming and nice counselor.
Mr. Somogyi said, ‘my mission here is to ‘foster’ the mental health of students on the campus, and I am the college counselor from this fall; I have been hired by the college management to foster the mental health of students on the campus.’ He told me that he studied for his Bachelor and Master’s at the U.S, and now he is presently completing his Doctorate at the University of Pecs.
I asked the smiling and mild mannered counselor what ‘fostering’ mental health on campus meant. He said ‘this is mental support for us to learn more about who we are and what we do here in our lives, support on how to struggle with life’s questions that we ask ourselves such as how to deal with the difficulties in my life, do I have enough internal resources, and am I just a biological part of my parents and is this where it ends?’
I was immediately drawn into deep thoughts from these questions, and Mr. Somogyi continued quite calmly ‘We also ask ourselves lots of other questions as we want to live a full life as human beings, and not just that of a wounded; maybe one where I have been abused by someone, or I have been affected by war in central Africa for example. Therefore mental health is truly about mental and emotional well-being of individuals and as a group.’
I was touched by the manner in which he spoke, and I felt he really understood and had experience on the struggle individuals go through with their emotions and thoughts.
Mr. Somogyi continued to discuss with me the nature of mental health, he said… ‘we might be healthy, have nice parents and still come across issues in our life, issues like being away from home and trying to be successful alone, the expectations of others, and school requirements such as mid-term and final exams.
We are also faced with more complicated aspects of life other than school requirements. Like meeting a girl in school and you decide to spend your life with her, then after sometime she decides you are not the only one. You ask yourself questions of how to cope with such a situation, and in such situations mental health counseling will help you a lot, not just at break ups but when you try to deal with the cultural differences or biases when you are in a relationship that might hinder communication.’
Mr. Somogyi said that finding yourself in a new environment and culture might lead you to need some support in making friends and coping with the new environment, ‘these are some of the areas which mental health deals with, as it is a subfield of psychology’ said the Counselor.
I asked the counselor if he gave a sort of medical treatment to some problems and he said; ‘Rather than deal with problems like schizophrenia, mental health does not medicate, this is the realm of clinical psychology. If a student were to have trouble sleeping, pills are not given, but the problem is explored through social and psychological reasoning, then we can filter out some things and this is why it is the most popular source of counseling in colleges in Hungary and the United States.’
Then I asked Mr. Somogyi on the confidential nature of his work with students who come to him with their problem, and if he counseled students who might seek help anonymously? He said ‘yes it is very confidential, but interpersonal consultation is the most encouraged course of mental health counseling. Just as a psychiatrist meets with patients so do mental health counselors because there are usually 5-6 answers for a question, and the process also deals with observation and reaction of the individual seeking counseling.’
‘We need to be responsible with our problems’ said the counselor, counseling service is a non-judgmental service. It does not label, it is an accepting environment which deals with where the individual is and not where he or she needs to get to, therefore his/her shortcomings are not judged.’
Mr. Somogyi said that for learning we need to express ourselves, and in cases of addiction and learning difficulties we need to get out of the box to seek help. Mr. Somogyi… ‘Addictions are not just drugs, but repetitive behaviors, or obsession with something and then we realize that our G.P.A and social life starts to decrease, sometimes a student might not even realize his/her G.P.A has decreased 2 points or that he/she is tired every time because they are living in a virtual world. This is where friends start to come in and give comments to you to try and spend more time studying, and then he/she realizes something is going wrong.
Mental health counseling may not be the solution, but the journey is started with the 6 sessions provided for each student by the school, and he/she may be referred to a well qualified psychologist, and it is thus in this sense a supportive service.’ Returning once more to my earlier question of how confidential a student’s consultation with him was, Mr. Somogyi stressed that students need to know that he is an external service provider, ‘I am not a member of the school academic faculty, I praise the college which purpose is to teach and yet gives such extra service, the college just has the duty to sensitize students to seek necessary help from his office if they need help, it is the students who have to enjoy this advantage.’
Our time for this interview over I felt better than I had been that afternoon, maybe because I felt enlightened or was it just the general nature of the counselor from his confidence, empathy and authority of this personal and important human subject.