The first Mental Health Awareness Discussion to help end stigmatization on the University of Rhode Island campus was held in the Multicultural Student Services Center on Tuesday, April 12.
The event’s founders are three psychology students at URI, freshman Nick Bush, Devon Jarvis and Emily DiGiorvio. The three share a passion for raising awareness for the mental health community. Jarvis said the idea for the event started as a class project where the group had to come up with an idea to increase the community’s familiarity with something the students personally felt needed more awareness.
Bush then thought of the event while trying to find a club or program that focused on the mental health stigma. And after being unable to find an organization that did this, he started it himself. Bush said he hopes to find a club to continue the group’s work in the coming years.
“It really is an event to bring this issue into the campus spotlight and into the consciousness of the community, as well as be able to showcase the already available resources and support networks on campus,” Bush said.
The event ran from 4 to 6 p.m., with guests including professors in related departments, such as psychology professor Mary Verstack, who walked the group through the history of the stigma surrounding mental illnesses. Verstack also discussed the language and subtext involved in the origin of mental illness stigma.
Most of the forum was group discussion led by peer leaders. Originally the group was split into subgroups, but eventually formed one large circle, opening the discussion to all participants. General questions were posed by participants, such as “Do you think celebrities coming out with their mental health stories will help others do the same?” and “Is there a stigma towards asking for help?”
Major discussion topics ranged from the importance of support, the glamorization and romanticism of mental disorders, men versus woman when dealing with mental disorders and the generalization/misunderstanding of stigmas.
The event brought over 25 guests into a thorough discussion of mental health and the stigmas that come with it.
“You’re expected to do certain things” one student said, when talking about those who are ashamed of their mental illness. “But just flush those out. Because then you’re left with this duality of ‘Who am I? Who am I supposed to be?’”
The goal of the program was to create a safe environment for all people on campus, regardless of their mental health, according to Jarvis. He said the event “goes to show what a safe environment is capable in bringing out in those that partake in it.”
Bush added that he wants to break the stigmas surrounding mental health in order to make those with mental illnesses feel comfortable, both on campus and in general.
“I don’t want those struggling with a mental illness to feel ashamed about it and afraid to get help,” Bush said. “That’s what this event is going to try to do over the next couple of years.”
Nick Bush is a staff reporter for The Good 5 Cent Cigar