Oct. 7–13 marked Mental Health Awareness Week, a time when we are encouraged to confront a topic that many of us try to avoid everyday. The truth is, we may not all have a mental illness, but we all have mental health.
While we often have negative images in our mind about what the issues are and mean, mental health disorders are a part of many of our lives and can become a relatively normal part of everyday life.
Mental illness affects 1 in 4 college students. In fact, two-thirds of those college students in need do not seek help, including those who are thinking about suicide. They worry about what will happen if they get help, some believe it will not work, and others don’t think their situation is bad enough to warrant it.
For 10 years, college students in Active Minds chapters across the country have been rejecting that negative societal stance by speaking openly and honestly to their peers about the realities of mental health. Yes, they carry with them facts, statistics, and resources, but they are also equipped with something even more powerful: their voices.
Active Minds immediately resonated with Robin Suchy, president of Cabrini’s chapter of Active Minds.
“Having spent much of high school trying to deal with my own struggles with mental health, I knew that I wanted to try and use my experiences to help people and Active Minds gave me a great opportunity to do so,” Suchy said.
Cabrini’s chapter of Active Minds usually has an event at least once a month that focus on different aspects of either eliminating stigma, educating people about mental health, and making people aware of the great services offered by our Counseling Center. So what has Cabrini done to promote Mental Health Awareness Week?
“We had our annual “Stomp Out Stigma” event where we had over 200 feet of bubble wrap around campus that had the word stigma written on it and asked people to help us stomp it out. This event really gets people thinking about what stigmas they may face and how they can help people feel less stigmatized, particularly surrounding mental illness,” Suchy said.
All volunteers for the event wore “Stigma Fighter” shirts similar to the shirts worn on the Glee episode that featured the song, “Born This Way.”
Suchy’s dedication to spreading the effort to help people understand mental health goes beyond Cabrini’s campus. Last spring, Suchy was awarded a position on the Active Minds National Student Advisory Committee, where a group of fifteen students from around the country represent the student voice of Active Minds at the National level.
“I’m on conference calls once a month talking to the national office about new initiatives and I’m helping facilitate sessions at the National Conference next month,” Suchy said.
Suchy is looking forward to applying to intern for Active Minds over this upcoming summer in Washington D.C. But for now, she’s working on letting some of the younger executive board members take on a more active role so that the club can keep strong after graduation. So what can be done to eliminate the stigma that surrounds mental health? Language is a big part of breaking perceptions.
“Ultimately, remembering that mental illnesses are biological conditions,” Suchy said, “caused by imbalances of neurotransmitters in the brain helps people to understand that these are not things people chose to have.”
Keeping an open mind about counseling and surrounding oneself with encouraging friends can go a long way in changing the attitude around mental health.