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Vigil raises anxiety, depression awareness

Rebecca O'Neil | Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Students gathered outside Holy Cross Hall at 8:30 p.m. Monday for a candlelight vigil to kick off “Support a Belle, Love a Belle” week at Saint Mary’s.

The College’s Student Government Association dedicated the first day of the week, World Suicide Prevention Day, to supporting women who suffer from anxiety and depression.  The day marked the second anniversary of former Saint Mary’s student Lizzy Seeberg’s death. Seeberg passed away in September 2010.

Susan Larson, vice president of the class of 2014, said the walk of solidarity from Holy Cross Circle to the Grotto was held not only in memory of Seeberg.

“[The walk is] to show support for our sisters and friends who suffer from anxiety or depression,” she said.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, roughly 20 percent of adults in the United States suffer from some sort of anxiety disorder.

Junior class president Carolyn Backes, a freshman roommate of Seeberg’s, addressed the group of 47 women who walked in support of the cause.

“It is only fitting that [Seeberg’s] memory be celebrated in action and activities that help others – particularly on the issue of mental health and well being,” Backes said.

Seeberg, who would have been a junior this year, struggled with anxiety and a related depression disorder, she said.

“Awareness of mental illness as a very real disease, as real as heart disease and cancer is a critical step in driving out the stigma that still surrounds the topic,” Backes said.

Larson devoted a prayer to Saint Dymphna, the patron saint of those afflicted with mental and emotional illness.

Backes said she believes the march is cathartic and crucial to maintain a close community on Saint Mary’s campus.

“I think it’s a tradition we need to keep up because we are such a small community.  I was her roommate freshman year, so it had a big impact on me,” she said.  “It made me realize early on how much of a community and family we all are. The support on campus is part of the reason I am still here today.”

Sophomore Anna Nolan said the transition to college can be overwhelming.

“One is granted so much independence and has to cope with a multitude of new responsibilities while simultaneously losing … the physical presence of your support system, or family,” she said.

Kristen Vokt, one of the “Support a Belle, Love a Belle” week organizers said she also felt very alone her sophomore year.

“Knowing that others are empathetic and aware is comforting,” she said. “This march shows that there is a willingness to acknowledge the significant number of people who struggle with mental illness and aiding them to recovery,” she said.

Vokt said the march is a symbol of seeking peace and comfort.

“It’s supposed to be empowering,” she said. “It’s about letting things that burden you fall aside to find courage and being supported by those that walk with you.”

Contact Rebecca O’Neil at roneil01@saintmarys.edu