EDUCATION

Mental health advocate spreads love one hug at a time

Will Stribling
Oxford Stories
wtstribl@go.olemiss.edu

Being a college student can be hard, but it’s sometimes even more difficult for those who face mental health challenges. Student Kelvin Carson, who is a survivor of depression and schizophrenia, wanted to help others who may need emotional support. So he began offering free hugs on the Ole Miss campus.

In many ways, Carson’s daily life matches the lives of many fellow Ole Miss students. He wakes up in the morning, and the first thing he does is text his girlfriend of five months.

His interests include spending time on streaming services like Netflix and YouTube, and every Monday night at 7 p.m., he watches WWE wrestling’s “Monday Night Raw.”

If he were a wrestler, he would choose the name “Devil” and pursue an Undertaker-like persona because of his love of fire. He might not be a WWE wrestler, but Carson does already possess a distinct look.

Carson sense of style stands out. Today, he’s wearing a Kurt Cobain T-shirt, a spiked choker necklace, and carrying a “Twilight” messenger bag. His hair is dyed a fiery red, and his face supports a modest handlebar mustache.

Ashton Brooks, Carson’s girlfriend and a student at Blue Mountain College, said her first impression of Carson was “wow his hair is big.”

Like all of us, Carson shares a love of music. Not a fan of hip-hop and rap, his chosen genres are pop and rock. Some of his favorite bands include Nirvana, Paramore, Kings of Leon, but his favorite is Metallica. His love for Metallica stems from a personal connection to lyrics that discuss issues like biracial identity.

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“A passerby stops to talk to Carson.” Will Stribling/Oxford Stories

Most of Carson’s time outside class is spent trying to catch up on his studies. Though he came to Ole Miss in the fall of 2015, he is still considered a sophomore because he fell behind while facing hard times after arriving in Oxford. Carson said he struggles daily with mental illness.

Carson suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder, Tourette syndrome, depression and schizophrenia. He describes living with schizophrenia as a constant paranoia and hearing voices in his head that command him to harm himself and others.

There are many misconceptions surrounding mental illnesses like these, and those around him say he’s been a positive force in their lives despite these struggles.

“He has been a great emotional support and has always been so kind to me,” said Brooks.

A native of Shaw, Mississippi, Carson’s move to Oxford proved difficult. He has suffered from schizophrenia symptoms since he was a child, but they got much worse after he started college.

This is often the case for people with schizophrenia because of the isolation and separation from loved ones that comes from such a move. Carson’s medications were not enough to control his symptoms, but he said he sought help through the campus counseling center.

Carson’s ability to seek help has set the current course of his life. The sociology and psychology student hopes to one-day serve as a University of Mississippi counselor.

“I love this campus,” he said. “I went through a rough patch when I got here, and I’ve been to the counseling center and received help because of my schizophrenia. I just want to pay that back by helping others here that may be suffering as well.”

Not a counselor yet, Carson still felt the need to spread love in some way. This is why in the spring semester of 2015, he started his “Free Hugs” initiative.

Like clockwork, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon, he stands near Farley Hall from 1:16-3:16 p.m. offering hugs to any passerby who wants one.

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“Most fail to take Carson up on his offer.”

Similar motions have been seen on other college campuses across the country, but few possess the longevity and dedication of Carson’s. He averages over 10 hugs per session.

Two stopped to take advantage of his offer today. One was already a friend of Carson, and the other, after receiving his hug, asked him, “What is this for?” Carson replied, “To spread love.”

The response to Carson’s hugs has been universally positive, and he has yet to encounter any rudeness. Carson said he has made at least 50 friends through his hugs, though he often remembers faces instead of names. Even though a hug is a small gesture, many argue that it can go a long way.

“You never know what someone is going through, and they probably need that,” said Brooks.

Though all of us may not have the time or inclination to act as Carson has, he still believes we all have the power to help those around us daily.

“It’s as simple as speaking to someone or telling someone that you hope they have a great day,” he said. “It’s the little things.”

The little things have a tendency to add up.

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