Student groups combat stigma with awareness

Students from USG table on Fairfield Way Tuesday afternoon to stop mental health stigma. Students wrote a mental health stigma they have experienced on a balloon, then stepped on and popped it to signify breaking that stigma. (Photo by Nicholas Hampton/The Daily Campus)

Tables set up in the Student Union and on Fairfield Way worked to dismantle the stigma around mental illnesses on Tuesday, Oct. 9 as part of Mental Health Awareness Week. In the Union, students raised awareness of the new Undergraduate Student Government Mental Health and Wellness subcommittee. Out on Fairfield Way, National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) students hosted a “Stomp the Stigma” activity to combat the stereotypes associated with mental health.

Besides these setups, Mental Illness Awareness Week is hosting guest speakers, lectures and training sessions through Friday. Counseling and Mental Health Services (CMHS), NAMI, Active Minds and USG Student Services Committee are all working together to host events individually and collaboratively.

NAMI’s “Stomp the Stigma” activity worked to combat stigma in a very physical sense. Armed with green and white balloons, ribbons and pins, they asked students to blow up a balloon, write on it words or phrases that represented stigma and then pop the balloon, either by stepping on it or pricking it with a pin.

“We wanted to do this because it’s a very physical representation of the things people deal with every day,” fifth-semester psychology student and NAMI Vice President Annastasia Martineau said.

Students could write phrases like, “get over it,” “crazy” or “loony:” phrases that blame those who struggle with mental illness for their afflictions and insinuate that mental illness decreases the value of a person. Otherwise, they could write on the balloon something that serves as a challenge to their own mental well-being, like “homework” or “midterms.” The act of popping the balloon was intended to represent asserting control over these challenges, working to dispel stereotypes and stigmas or remove the roadblocks to mental stability.

Along with the push from groups like NAMI to take the taboo away from issues of mental health, the new USG subcommittee for Mental Health and Wellness also aims to discuss these issues in greater detail.

“I created this new subcommittee to advocate for the mental, physical and sexual health of students,” fifth-semester molecular and cell biology major and Student Services Committee Chairman Derek Pan said. “Strong mental health is pretty important for a good college experience.”

The subcommittee is undertaking initiatives such as hosting mental health first aid certification events, which teach students how to support friends and find resources, and increasing the number of locations on campus where students can access free menstrual products. They’re also hoping to lobby the state legislators to mandate a program similar to Protect Our Pack or AlcoholEdu that would educate first-year students on mental health challenges they may face when entering college and the resources available, according to Pan.

“I think that mental illness is so prevalent on college campuses, but it’s ignored and misunderstood,” seventh-semester psychology major and NAMI President Caitlyn Cody said. “Awareness is the first step to ending ignorance.”

The subcommittee meets Mondays from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. in Student Union Room 219 and is open to all students. Along with the subcommittee, NAMI and other advocacy groups will continue to host events throughout the week and the rest of the school year, such as Fresh Check Day in the spring, another event committed to getting mental health issues out in the open.

“Ending ignorance is the first step to achieving an atmosphere where students can be comfortable and safe,” Cody said, “and do what they came here to do.”


Alex Houdeshell is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at alexandra.houdeshell@uconn.edu.