Author: Thomas Schryver
The week of Nov. 10-14 marked Occidental’s first Mental Health Awareness Week, organized by campus club Active Minds. Part of a nationally-run organization based out of Washington D.C., the Occidental chapter of Active Minds was formed in the spring of 2008 after meeting with a representative from a UCLA chapter.
The week’s events began with a Tuesday screening of The Truth About Suicide: Real Stories of Depression in College, followed by an open discussion with a panel of six mental health professionals including psychologist Dr. Nina Gutin ’85. A candlelight vigil for mental awareness was held Thursday evening in the Greek Bowl, where students had the opportunity to share personal stories of their mental health experiences. The week’s events concluded on Friday with a “de-stressing” finger painting session in the quad.
Active Minds president, Eleni Hobbs (Senior), spoke of the importance of having an on-campus club that addresses the issue of mental health, as well as a week dedicated to raising awareness of mental health issues.
“Due to the academic nature of Oxy, mental health and wellness is sort of placed on the back burner at times, and that’s why Active Minds is here,” Hobbs said. “Essentially, we just want students to be aware of their own mental health and their fellow peers.”
Active Minds aimed not only to raise the visibility of mental health in the campus environment, but also to confront the stigma commonly associated with mental health issues.”I think Oxy is pretty good about stigmas in general, however, the stigma surrounding mental health is present here at Oxy” said Hobbs. “I think mental health is something that is a very sensitive subject, because no one wants to be called ‘crazy.'”
Dr. Matthew Calkins, Associate Director of Counseling Services, and Richard Youngblood, Director of Emmons Health Center also spoke of the hesitance that many students feel when they consider seeking counseling when faced with mental issues.
“A common thought is that ‘somebody else is suffering more than me,'” Calkins said. “Students may ask themselves, ‘If I look for help, then what does that mean about me?'” The irony of this reluctance to seek help, Youngblood pointed out, is that while students will not hesitate to seek treatment for a physical ailment, mental ailments are often perceived as taboo, and non-discussable with others.
Active Minds’ work does not end with Mental Health Awareness Week, however. “My hope is that once Active Minds becomes known on Oxy’s campus, we’ll be able to remove the stigma and shed light on this subject and truly open the door for conversation about mental health,” Hobbs says.
Along with more club-sponsored meetings to raise awareness, a “Stomp-Out-Stigma” jog-athon is planned for the spring semester of ’09, where the topic of stigma can be even further addressed.
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