Mental Health Awareness Week Breaks the Silence
By Maegan Clearwood
Washington College’s first annual Mental Health Awareness Week culminated in a towering wall of anonymous confessions from contributions of more than 100 students. The secrets ranged from “I have cried in IHOP 15 times,” to “I love when children fall down,” but no matter how funny or painful, they were all honest.
Senior Co-Chairs of the WC National Service Committee Sarah Hartge and Megan Gentry spearheaded the week.
“We wanted to do something with PostSecret, but we wanted to do something bigger, something for mental health,” Hartge said. “Both of us have friends and family who have been dealing with mental health problems, and it’s a wide-spread issue, so we wanted to do something that would spread awareness and let people express themselves.”
The Service Council collaborated with Counseling Services to plan a week of events. Director of Counseling Services Bonnie Fisher said Counseling Services has hosted depression screening days and mental health first aid training in the past, but this is the most extensive effort she has seen so far.
“The important thing of Mental Health Awareness Week is to know we’re talking about all of us, not us and them. We all deal with adjustment concerns, mental health concerns, so information is really important,” Fisher said.
On Tuesday, there was a special performance Open Mic Night in the Egg, where students were welcome to express themselves artistically.
According to Fisher, about 20 students and staff members participated in the depression and anxiety screening last Thursday afternoon at the Egg.
“It’s not a great activity for the lunch line. It’s sort of exposed, but a lot of people picked up brochures,” she said. “It’s awareness, and if that means you pick up a brochure and look at it, that’s good too. A number of people made appointments because of the screening.”
On Thursday, the Psychology Club collaborated with the team to screen “Girl, Interrupted,” and psychology professor Dr. James Seimen opened with a discussion on the stigma attached to mental health. Hartge said about 20 students attended the event.
“We felt that looking at it from the past, we can see how it’s changed and how we still have stigma,” Hartge said. “The different characters have different kinds of issues, so it’s not just one thing.”
Students filled out anonymous PostSecret cards throughout the week, and the secrets were revealed in an exhibition on Friday.
Hartge said that the national PostSecret campaign, which provides a forum for people to express themselves honestly and anonymously, inspired her and Gentry to bring the program to WC.
“It was a way for people to be creative, to get something off their chests,” she said. “I’ve had people come up to me and say it was really powerful. People really took the time to read them.”
From the overwhelming response to the PostSecret campign, it seems that the goal to break the silence about mental illnesses was achieved.
Mental health is a particularly pertinant issue on college campuses, where students are adjusting to new and turbulent stages of life.
Fisher said that about 20 percent of the student population takes advantage of counseling services.
“We have counseling and we know it’s there, but it’s not really talked about. It goes along with our society’s attitude toward mental health, and it’s considered bad,” Hartge said.
Although the week is over, Fisher said she hopes mental health awareness efforts will continue. She hopes to re-activate the WC branch of Active Minds, a national program that provides mental health resources and programming ideas.
“I would like to have more students active in an organization that shares resources and information and can provide a base of students with more awareness,” Fisher said.
There are also plans to host a mental first aid training program for students soon.
“The statistics suggest that 20 percent of the population at any given time experience major depression, so there are students who come to campus and experience an episode of extreme depression or anxiety,” Fisher said. “We need more attention. We need to be better resources for each other on campus.”
Fisher said that any students interested in restarting an Active Minds group should email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.