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Beyond the stigma

| Thursday, October 29, 2015

Recently, Mental Illness Awareness Week was held here on campus. Symbolized by the Word of Life Mural’s green glow, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI-ND) hosted a number of speakers and coordinated an entire week of events designed to raise awareness and provoke discussion about mental illness throughout campus. NAMI-ND is assuredly due commendation for its exertion in organizing the week and its events.

When it comes to conversation concerning mental illness on campus, the most transparent objective typically involves an aim toward exterminating stigma surrounding mental illness. This objective is undeniably paramount in improving mental health at Notre Dame, but it is also important to recognize that de-stigmatizing is just one component of any mission devoted to ameliorating the state of mental health on campus.

An optimal environment for accommodating mental health on campus is one where all students and faculty not only understand the genuine obstacles that mental illnesses pose for some individuals, but also an environment where everyone has the knowledge and experience to be in the best position possible to provide meaningful support to those who may need it.

Additionally, there are numerous benefits to mental health awareness initiatives having objectives aimed at educating the public to be prepared on how to act if one of their friends or peers has the courage to be transparent about struggling with their mental health. One of the main hopes of de-stigmatizing mental illness is that it will cultivate an environment where individuals are not ashamed or afraid to seek help. This environment becomes much more effective if the general population is prepared to provide support and (if necessary) get professional assistance involved. Obviously, there is no single method appropriate for all situations, but any form of training that increases the preparedness of individuals across campus would be advantageous.

Of course, none of these suggestions are designed to mitigate the importance of the de-stigmatizing objective. There is a reason this goal is the cornerstone of most campaigns about mental health awareness. If anything, these additional objectives highlight the importance of de-stigmatizing since, intuitively, a population that has disregard for stigma surrounding mental illness should be more receptive to initiatives targeted toward increasing its knowledge of mental illnesses and capacity to assist those who may need support.

It is clear, however, that de-stigmatizing is often the most translucent component of mental illness awareness campaigns. Because this objective can often dominate mental health discussions, it is important to note an optimal state of mental health on campus should involve more than just this single goal. Ideally, our campus can be an environment where individuals not only are comfortable speaking about mental illnesses they may be struggling with, but one where their peers are also educated about these mental illnesses and prepared to provide beneficial support.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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