Awareness week events attempt to remove stigmas surrounding mental health and illness
Ranging from Laughter Yoga to free massages in Olin Library, events relating to mental health and illness are a part of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week.
The fifth annual collaboration between Uncle Joe’s Peer Counseling, Active Minds at Wash.U. and To Write Love on Her Arms aims to promote mental health and mental illness awareness by providing programming to engage students in this issue. Event organizers have been planning since November to engage students in how to deal with mental health and illness.
According to senior Abhishek Saxena, president of Active Minds at Wash.U. and one of the event’s main organizers, this year’s awareness week will focus on removing the stigmas about those who have mental illnesses while in previous years, the week focused on mental health in general. While mental health is a person’s state of mind or being, Saxena said, mental illnesses are conditions or disorders that might affect how a person lives his or her day-to-day life.
“It affects everyone,” Saxena said. “Everyone has mental health and one in four people live with a mental illness themselves, and almost everyone knows someone that has a mental illness. So it’s affecting everyone, and it’s something that we don’t talk about, but its something that saves lives.”
Saxena said that students struggling with mental health and illness issues should not refrain from seeking help.
“Mental illness is not a weakness,” Saxena added. “It’s just another part of a person. It is not that person, and people shouldn’t [be] ashamed about getting the help that they need and the help that they deserve.”
Additionally, Active Minds at Wash.U. will be launching two campaigns to raise awareness against the stigmas of having a mental illness. Using #stigmafighter, the group will unveil a picture campaign in combination with a video campaign dubbed “I thrived.” By spreading the message through social media, the organization hopes to educate the public on living and coping with mental illness.
“There are a lot of stigmas surrounded around mental illness—in particular is that it’s not real because it’s an invisible disease to many and thus it’s just a bunch of people complaining about things that don’t exist,” Saxena said. “[That stigma] really ignores the genetic and biological factors as well as the very real social issues that come along with it.”
On Tuesday, the group of organizations hosted a panel titled “Mental Health: A Series of Success Stories” to discuss how students and faculty cope with mental illnesses, anxiety and depression. Consisting of junior Eli Horowitz, Dean Joy Kiefer, associate professor of anthropology Rebecca Lester and adjunct professor Nick Miller, the panel said there is no true definition of success in overcoming mental illness, just finding the best way to cope with the struggle as an individual.
“A pretty good working definition in my mind is being able to achieve what you decide you want to achieve or function in the way you want to function,” Horowitz said. “And beyond that, it’s important to realize one single instance or failure, or a bad day, doesn’t negate any progress that you made.”
The panel also discussed how stress at college can cause these issues and the importance of a social support system.
“There’s a lot of social pressure on [students] at all times—where you belong, how you identify, all these other things,” Miller said. “If someone is going to risk opening up to you about their mental health concerns, don’t run away from them. Give them another shot. Ask questions. Be willing to be interested in what they’re asking for.”
Junior Alex Griffel attended the event because he supports the role Active Minds plays in raising mental health awareness.
“I think it’s always worth hearing stories when the chance presents itself, and I think it’s also worth noting that this is a safe space for them to do that, and we don’t always do a good job of providing those,” Griffel said.
On Wednesday, the groups hosted a PostSecret unveiling in College Hall, which featured a collage of anonymous postcard submissions from students. The confessions touched on a wide variety of topics, ranging from dealing with death to sexual health to less serious confessions about overuse of Netflix. As students trickled in, they were greeted with poster boards of cards, as well as other confessions strung throughout the room.
Throughout the tail end of the week, the three groups will sponsor additional events related to mental health and mental health awareness, such as Laughter Yoga and Stressbusters in Olin Library.