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ND students seek out greater mental health awareness

| Monday, October 6, 2014

Irish State of Mind Week, the University’s manifestation of National Mental Health Awareness Week, will take place this week Oct. 5-10 across Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s campuses.

Notre Dame Student Government, who partnered with the Notre Dame chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness [NAMI-ND] this year, planned more than 10 events that will take place across campus this week.

NAMI-ND president Maggie Skoch said the purpose of NAMI-ND and Irish State of Mind week is to “educate and make students more aware of resources and to encourage conversation.”

Irish State of Mind week began over the weekend with the illumination of Touchdown Jesus in green, the “awareness color of mental illness” according to senior and student government director of residence life Brent Murphy. Murphy said Touchdown Jesus will remain green all week.

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Murphy, the principle member of student government in charge of event planning, said he inherited the event from former director of residence life Stephanie Klotter.

“Once Lauren [Vidal] and Matt [Devine] asked me to be involved, we looked to partner a little bit more with NAMI,” he said. “[Irish State of Mind Week] is obviously right up their alley, and it’s something they’re really passionate about. We felt that by partnering more with them, we could give them a bigger platform for everything that they’re doing. Working with them has been a big learning experience, but it’s been awesome.”

The sponsors planned two events for Monday, “Let’s Talk” at 2 p.m. in LaFortune Student Center and a screening of the documentary “On the Bridge” at 7:30 p.m. in DeBartolo 131. “Let’s Talk” is an ongoing University Counseling Center (UCC) program described by the UCC as “a place where you can talk about concerns and receive expert suggestions about solutions and resources or just have someone who listens well and can offer support.”

Although “Let’s Talk” is not specific to Irish State of Mind week, it was publicized in conjunction with the programming “because of its relevance to the issues of mental health and mental illness,” Skoch said.

“On the Bridge,” directed by Notre Dame professor Olivier Morel, explores post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among U.S. veterans of the Iraq War. Morel and former U.S. marine Vince Emanuele, who appears in the documentary, are available for a Q&A session after the screening.

“The documentary is very impressive,” Murphy said. “And Professor Morel is absolutely great.”

Tuesday night NAMI-ND planned what Skoch described as “a night of storytelling,” titled “In Our Own Words.”

“We’re going to have nine students telling stories about the way that mental illness has touched their lives, either through themselves, a family member or a friend,” Skoch said. “I think everyone’s lives have been touched by mental illness. It’s terrible that it’s such a widespread issue, but there’s beauty in solidarity.”

Wednesday afternoon the University Counseling Center (UCC) will have an open house in the Dooley Room in LaFortune, featuring massage chairs and sun lamps from the Inner Resource Room.

“I think the UCC does very good work, very necessary work,” Skoch said. “They have great resources, and they’re looking to spread awareness about them.”

Murphy said Late Night Breakfast, an event which is new this year, is “student government’s baby.”

“South Dining Hall will be open from 10 p.m. – 12 a.m. on Wednesday, serving all the breakfast foods,” Murphy said. “Since a lot of the events are a little heavier substance-wise, it’s a little lighter to balance that out. We thought it would be a good fit thematically for the week.

“SUB has partnered with us, and AcoustiCafe will be there. We’re really hoping to drive people there to raise awareness. There will be stress relievers out on South Quad, and a banner to sign that will hopefully go up in LaFun before the UNC game on Saturday. It’s been fun to plan, and Food Services has been very receptive to it, as well. All anyone needs to come is to save one meal swipe, and then you’re good to go.”

Other highlights of the week include a lecture by Tom Seeberg, father of former Saint Mary’s student Lizzy Seeberg who committed suicide in September 2010. The talk is entitled “Believe: Giving Witness to Hope.”

“[Seeberg’s] talk will focus on the issues of mental illness and I think sexual assault as he has experience them through losing Lizzy,” Skoch said.

Jamie Tworkoswki, founder of the organization “To Write Love On Her Arms” (TWLOHA), will be in DeBartolo 101 on Friday afternoon as part of the final event of the week. According to its mission statement, TWLOHA “exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery” for those struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.”

“It’s incredibly exciting that he’ll be there,” Murphy said. “It’s a pretty well-known group, and I’m excited that we’re going to get them on campus.”

Skoch said TWLOHA has a beautiful message and does great work raising awareness.

“I hope students take away from the week that this isn’t something that needs to be hushed up,” Skoch said. “People aren’t afraid to name physical ailments, but we have a very hard time naming some of these hidden issues that you can’t always see very well. If more people would say the words, I think it would get us so much farther than keeping the words bottled up.”

A full list of events can be found on the Irish State of Mind Facebook page.

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About Margaret Hynds

Margaret is a senior Political Science major and the former Editor-in-Chief of The Observer. She hails from Washington, D.C., and is a former Phox of Pangborn Hall. Follow Margaret on Twitter @MargaretHynds

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