SupportMe, an initiative implemented by Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, helps connect fraternity members with resources for battling more sensitive issues, including mental health and substance abuse.
By Alissa Barthel
In fraternities and sororities, excessive drinking and substance abuse can sometimes go unnoticed but not always. Tau Kappa Epsilon,, a fraternity at the University of Minnesota, has started looking for ways to help its members get ahead of any addiction problems by connecting them with resources that can help.
The program, called SupportMe, helps members struggling with anything from anxiety to substance use, offering resources such as a mental health crisis line and a support circle to keep struggling students connected.
“People turn a blind eye in the Greek community,” said Ryan Karau, a senior and executive board member of TKE, who helped with the early phases of the program. “It’s all about talking to people that do need help and aligning them with resources.”
The program was created by Jordan Abhold, a member of the fraternity with a background in public health. He worked with the executive board of TKE to incorporate SupportMe and helped train them on how to handle situations.
Abhold presented SupportMe to the Interfraternity Council in the spring of 2016 during a meeting to discuss the need for more mental health resources in fraternities.
“A staggeringly large proportion of the chapter had experienced or was experiencing some kind of struggle with mental illness and/or substance use, and it seemed like we needed some sort of outlet to help each other discuss these things in an open, honest, and constructive way,” Abhold said.
Members are made aware of the program as soon as they pledge the fraternity since it is part of the pledge education that new members participate in.
For Greek members that are sober or in recovery, SupportMe can be used to create a network system to provide sober support during events that serve alcohol, Karau said.
Karau said that a large part of the program is simply pulling members aside if they seem to be showing signs of repetitive unhealthy behavior to the point of causing concern.
“It can be just me and them having a conversation, in a non-intimidating setting, and presenting myself as only there to empathize and care for them,” he said. “I do a lot of listening, and letting them voice their concerns, fears, anxiety and depression.”
Even though none of the of the executive board members of TKE are professionals in handling these issues, Karau says each can focus on being a point person that who fraternity members can feel comfortable approaching and who can guide them to professional resources. Executive members then work together to develop action plans for how to help each individual person, depending on how that person is struggling.
One part of the SupportMe program is using GroupMe, a mobile messaging app, to create an online forum for members to discuss issues in a welcoming and positive environment. There is an anonymous forum for people to voice concerns for themselves or someone else, and the messages are sent to the executive board member in charge of the program, who creates a plan for that member.
Another part of the program is having speakers from other organizations speak with the fraternity about important topics. Some of these include people from SHADE and the Aurora Center, both of which come speak at mandatory meetings for members to raise awareness of those issues.
Although none has so far spoken on substance abuse, Karau said he believes that these actions have prevented certain behaviors from becoming dangerous by being proactive and supporting members in early stages of behaviors before it leads to something more serious.
“It primarily raises awareness and reacts to problems related to substance,” Karau said. “I still feel that there is maybe a chance that it has helped prevent substance abuse.”