Mental Health Awareness Walk encourages campus solidarity

Geneseo’s Psychology Club, national psychology honor society Psi Chi and peer-to-peer support helpline Pathways joined together to host the 2014 Mental Health Awareness Walk on Sunday Oct. 26. With 140 participants, the on-campus walk raised over $1,000 for western New York mental health and rehabilitation services provider Horizon Health. The idea for the walk originated with Pathways’ programming committee co-chairs seniors Heather Earle and Lesley Dalton. Along with Psi Chi and Psychology Club, Pathways hosted a Suicide Awareness event in spring 2014 in which yellow flags were scattered across Sturges Hall, representing the thousands of college students lost every year to suicide. Earle and Dalton wanted to have an event that continued to promote awareness of the prevalence of mental health issues.

“We wanted to emphasize that everyone goes through something at some point,” Earle said. “There are people that care and there are resources available.”

Earle and Dalton approached Psychology Club president senior Alexis Brieant and Psi Chi president senior Mia Ferraina with their idea for a walk and both were eager to get their organizations involved. “We want to make mental health something that people are thinking about and really aware of,” Dalton said. “There is a stigma that comes with mental illness and we’re trying to erase that on campus.”

Upon walking into the KnightSpot for registration, participants were greeted with encouraging, colorful posters hung around the room. “You’re a person, not a diagnosis,” “Learn to love yourself,” and “Depression is an illness, not a weakness” were the ones that stood out to me. As someone who struggled for years with depression and social anxiety before finally going to seek treatment in fall 2013, I can’t explain how amazing it felt to be in an environment that expressed heartfelt, open support for those with mental health issues.

“People are suffering from these problems,” Brieant said. “It’s important for people to feel like it’s OK to talk about them.”

The slogan “Stamp Out Stigma” was used to emphasize the goal of working together to eliminate negative, ignorant stigma surrounding mental illness that can be incredibly harmful to those who suffer from it.

“People make light of it or they look down on those who suffer from something like anxiety or depression,” Dalton said. “The whole idea of ‘just get over it’––it’s not something you can just ‘get over.’”

Things as simple as stating that you have attention deficit hyperactive disorder because you can’t stay focused in a boring class or that your sense of organization is an indicator of obsessive compulsive disorder also perpetuate stigma; they diminish the significance of those who actually do have disorders.

Ferraina emphasized the idea that ignorance surrounding the cause of mental illness is a huge determinant in why so many people perceive it negatively.

“I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding with students sometimes about where mental illness stems from and sometimes I think there’s a lot of blame on the individual,” Ferraina said. “I think people don’t understand the biological causes behind it and the environmental factors that can impact it.”

The seniors all agreed on the importance of self-education about mental illness along with supporting those who suffer from it.

“The more informed you are, the less stigma there is,” Earle said.

“If you see someone in your life who is struggling or might need your support, you can reach out your hand––they may not take that hand, but at least they know that you are supportive and you’re there if they need you,” Ferraina said. “If everyone does a little something, then maybe we’ll all feel more accepted.”