In her early 20s, Megan Pope had just graduated from college experiencing a major depressive episode. She questioned the purpose of life and her own purpose as well.
”I just moved back with my parents, and I don’t feel like I was really told, like, ‘oh, you should go see a therapist,’ you know, and so I just kind of suffered alone,” Pope said.
When she was 30, Pope had the same symptoms. A specialist diagnosed her with depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
“Having someone tell me that I was depressed made me feel like, OK, I’m not crazy, but it made me feel like, oh, I have a thing.” Pope said.
After finding out her diagnosis, Pope did a three-month outpatient therapy program. She took part in both group and individual therapy, describing it as “really intense.”
Pope participated in dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT which helps those with serious mental health issues, according to Good Therapy.
“And that was so powerful,” Pope said. “And one of the things I learned while I did that was meditation.”
Now, Pope, a communication lecturer at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, is helping people by receiving her certification to teach mindfulness meditation classes, creating her own website aimed at mental health, and creating a club for students to talk about mental health.
A former student says Pope’s knowledge and experience helped her.
“She’s always been the one that has helped me through my mental health when it came to getting through college because junior college was way different,” Danielle VanBuskirk said. “And it felt like I was still in high school at times when I was in junior college.“
Moving to San Antonio in 2014 and attending A&M-San Antonio in 2016, VanBuskirk worked full time while going to school.
VanBuskirk said she didn’t know many people, making it challenging to make friends. She said her schoolwork began to suffer.
“My husband’s in the oil field so I was by myself, so he was gone working,” VanBuskirk said. ”So trying to balance school and work and maintaining my household by myself was very challenging and it did affect me mentally especially because I had no family around, no friends, and I would talk to Megan.”
VanBuskirk said it was a “culture shock” transitioning from community college to a four-year university.
“I wasn’t prepared, so mentally, I was struggling. So she definitely helped me get through that,” said VanBuskirk, an English literature major who took a speech class with Pope.
VanBuskirk saw counselor Kathleen Frank the entire time she was a student.
“She helped me a lot,” VanBuskirk said.
“Through counseling, I was taught techniques on how to handle panic attacks that I still use — self-care things like: something you like to do to help me mentally clear my head,” VanBuskirk said. “I like to read, so if I was feeling stressed that day, I would read or listen to music or do something crafty.”
Pope kept in contact after VanBuskirk completed her class, encouraging her to apply for graduate school.
VanBuskirk graduated from A&M-San Antonio in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in English literature. She is in graduate school for a degree in strategic communication and digital strategy at the University of Oklahoma online.
“The way she’s cheered me on has definitely helped me because I was always hard on myself mentally,” VanBuskirk said. “Like, (I was) discouraged to do anything, and she always made me feel like I could do anything.”
Today VanBuskirk, who is a tech specialist for a retina doctor, said she has tips and tricks that help her, besides medication.
“All the mental hardships aren’t as hard as they used to be. There’s ways to conquer them now,” VanBuskirk said.
Pope continues to learn new strategies to share with students and others.
In June 2022, Pope attended a three-day training for The Center For KORU Mindfulness, held in North Carolina.
The Center For KORU Mindfulness was created to help young people with their growth and interests, according to the KORU website.
She is in the process of receiving a meditation teacher certification from KORU. Once certified, Pope will be able to teach this curriculum to young adults.
The KORU basic curriculum is an introduction to mindfulness and meditation.
“It’s a four-week class that you can teach college students that teaches them nine types of meditation,” Pope said. ”So I went to learn how to teach this class.”
Pope has now taught the class twice, off-campus. Her goal is to start teaching it on campus.
“I wanted to go because I felt like my students were suffering, like they weren’t doing OK, but I didn’t know how to help them because, the truth is, I can’t solve their problems,” Pope said. “But I thought, maybe I can start doing meditation classes on campus and maybe that will help someone. It helps me. I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing. That’s why I went and got the certification, so I could have a little credibility.”
After receiving her certification, Pope hopes to lead a mindfulness meditation class on campus for faculty, staff and students.
“I would also like to make the conversation around mental health more common, less scary and just make people feel like they can open up about their struggles,” Pope said. ”And that’s why I’m starting that club.”
Pope is working with students on campus to start a student chapter of an organization called Active Minds.
Active Minds is a nonprofit organization devoted to spreading mental health awareness and educating teen and adults.
While using a peer-to-peer approach, the organization opens the conversation around mental health with a goal of normalizing mental health on college and university campuses.
Pope will be the faculty adviser of the club. Pope said she will support students in bringing events and awareness to mental health.
“I just want to empower students. They can talk about this. It doesn’t have to be a secret,” Pope said.
Some potential events for the club are peer-led groups where students can share their experiences and talk about mental health.
History freshman Logan Adams has taken on the role of president of the Active Minds club.
Adams became involved after Pope, “expressed interest to the class about having a mental health-oriented club.”
“I just really care about normalizing mental health and, like, having that open discussion,” Adams said.
“We do have a lot of ideas. One main thing that we really want to try to be able to do sometime this semester is get some speakers to host a panel where they have discussions regarding, like, mental health, suicide prevention. Those types of topics,” Adams said.
Adams expressed he would like to have events involving serious topics about mental health and others that are activity-based.
“I guess what we’re really trying to prove is that there shouldn’t be this stigma around the discussion of mental health; that it should be something that we are able to talk about and be comfortable to talk about; and that is why we want to provide this space for students to be able to discuss it,” Adams said.
The club’s meeting days are from 2-3 p.m. every Thursday throughout the spring semester in Room 219 of the Central Academic Building.
Political science sophomore Destiny Caballero expressed her interest in the club.
“I really value mental health and I really feel like our school needs to discuss it more, and no ones really doing that,” Caballero said. “I’ve been a part of some organizations, I’ve gone to events, and it’s not talked about. And I feel like lots of college students are going through things, and it’s important for them to feel like they’re not alone, and that’s why I took an interest in the organization that she [Pope] wants to develop.”
Caballero said she is working with Pope to get the club established and approved by the school.
“Right now, it’s just getting ideas of what we want to do, what our goals are, getting more members especially,” Caballero said. “But yeah, that’s where we’re at; it’s still up and building right now.”
Caballero described ideas and events she has for the club.
“An event where you can relax and enjoy whatever it is that you’re doing,” Caballero said. ” (To) be present, whether that’s an event of painting or talking about a specific type of mental health issue, like depression or anxiety … but really talking about these things and getting people involved and aware.”
Caballero wants to have “a place where people can feel safe and encouraged and it’s not a stressful environment.”
Pope also has a website called meditationprofessor.com
“What I want to be known for is that I helped people learn to be more compassionate and to have better mental health,” Pope said. “And so this website, meditationprofessor.com, is kind of like my love letter to the human race, right.”
The website explains Pope’s mental health journey and how she uses compassion as the basis for her teaching.
“I want to teach meditation to the greater San Antonio community. I want to teach meditation on campus,” Pope said. “But then, I also think that my website is for other faculty across the country, across the world.”
Pope said she wants “more professors to adopt a compassionate pedagogy stance.”
“I want them to feel empowered to treat their students and themselves with compassion and to come at teaching through a lens of compassion,” Pope said. “And so, like, I have a talk that I can give or, like, a training that I can do to help them learn about that.
“I think it kind of goes hand in hand with wanting faculty or staff to feel confident and comfortable talking to students about mental health,” she added.
Pope understands some professors may not know how to approach students on sensitive topics like mental health and suicide.
“I don’t think that we’re really taught how to have those hard conversations, and they’re scary, right? And they’re uncomfortable,” Pope said.
“I want to empower faculty to be able to have those conversations with students if they’re necessary,” Pope said. “I’m also your professor, but I care about you.”
Another motivation for the website is “to spread awareness of mindfulness meditation, which can help, not going to solve, but it can help with mental health.”
She would also like to inspire other campuses, faculty, staff and students to bring this to their schools.
“I care about mental health in higher education,” Pope said.