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Wichita State student body president opens up about his mental health

WSU student body President John Kirk.
Maegan Vincent
The Sunflower
WSU student body President John Kirk.

John Kirk says he's taking steps to deal with past trauma that led to mental health struggles.

Wichita State University student body President John Kirk said he has dealt with many mental health difficulties over the years.

After confronting his issues, the 116th student body president said he began going to counseling to help heal.

“I've finally gotten to a place where I'm comfortable with telling people where I've been and who I am,” Kirk said.

Throughout his adolescence and adult life, Kirk said family issues have been a struggle. He lost his father young, which fragmented his relationship with his mother and in turn impacted his other relationships.

“My whole life I've always struggled with like being forgotten or being lost,” Kirk said.“I have a hard time connecting and thinking that when people are coming to me to want to talk they're ... at the end of the day, going to leave as well."

During his grade school years, Kirk said he struggled with suicidal ideation. He said he was diagnosed as a diabetic from a young age and would increase his insulin dosage as a form of self-harm.

Kirk said he has suffered from other medical problems aside from his diabetes that made him live under constant stress.

“I know what it's like to feel completely alone,” Kirk said.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it also took a toll on Kirk’s mental health.

“I just like being out, so being contained in one room basically all the time, drove me absolutely nuts,” Kirk said.

To manage his emotions and create a better work-to-life balance, Kirk said he signed up for counseling through WSU's Counseling and Prevention Services (CAPS) program. The stigma that surrounds counseling and therapy was another obstacle for Kirk to tackle.

“[I thought], 'Why the hell am I gonna talk to somebody about my problems? I can't even talk about myself with my own problems,' ” Kirk said.

Kirk said creating a work-life balance at these sessions helped him manage the stress of his education and job.

“I would literally be sitting at home, be doing something, I get an email on my phone and I'm like going right to it,” Kirk said.

Now, Kirk said he will only check his email during work hours. Relying on Vice President Mary Thornton has helped Kirk become better equipped to handle the stress of his job. He said he goes to his second-in-command for advice or to vent.

“Sometimes, he just needs to sit and rant,” Thornton said. “As a president or vice president, it gets lonely because there's a lot of things that you can't tell anyone.”

Kirk said that he does not know where he would be without his support system. Thornton said that creating a support system is based on finding people you can trust.

“It's nice to know that people actually care,” Kirk said.

Kirk advises students to seek help if they need it.

“Everyone's a person,” Kirk said. “Every person is a being, and every being is important.”

If you are interested in scheduling a CAPS appointment, go to wichita.edu/services/counseling/.

If you are in a crisis, reach out to the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.

This story was originally published in The Sunflower. It is published here as part of the Wichita Journalism Collaborative, an alliance of 10 community — including KMUW — formed to support and enhance quality local journalism.