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Campus sponsors ‘PostSecret,’ Irish style

Liz O'Donnell | Thursday, March 26, 2009

If you have checked your mailbox lately, you probably received a postcard blank on one side except for the words “Write it down …”

These postcards were part of Notre Dame’s first “PostSecret” event: Students have the opportunity to mail secrets or personal troubles to be published anonymously.

Spencer Howard, a co-founder of Notre Dame’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) that helped to sponsor the event, said the group’s goal was to raise awareness and advocate for better mental health.

The College Democrats, the Sophomore Class Council, the Psychology Club and the Senate Social Concerns Committee also helped with sponsorship duties.

“This was a way for student’s to get the word out and share their stores of not just mental illness, but anything that’s been on their mind,” Howard said.

The postcards were filled with thoughts ranging from concern over a mental illness to worries about friends to feelings of panic.

The event had to go through a series of SAO activities as well as print off over 6,000 postcards and fliers to publicize the event.

Dorm mailboxes were stuffed with the postcards, along with a blue slip of paper describing NAMI’s mental health mission.

Although the event targeted students living on campus, students living off campus were welcome to participate in the event.

Howard said his fellow organizers were hopeful that students would share their personal struggles to help build a stronger sense of community and a better support system.

“If they don’t have support in the community, dealing with issues for many students is challenging,” Howard said. “People will want to talk about it, and others will be able to learn more about it.”

NAMI-ND was co-founded this year by Howard and Katie Dunn. Howard said he read a New York Times article in 2006 about the organization as a whole, and decided to try to start one here.

“NAMI is a national group with state and local chapters,” Howard said. “It is an important organization, often referenced by top political figures.

According to NAMI’s Web site, the group is “the nation’s largest grassroots organization for people with mental illness and their families. Founded in 1979, NAMI has affiliates in every state and in more than 1,100 local communities across the country.”

The mission of the Notre Dame chapter is to work toward ending the stigma directed at mental illness on campus through alliance, advocacy and awareness.

While this event has no affiliation with the PostSecret event held on other college campuses, Howard said it earned the same name because of the use of the postcard for spreading a personal message.

While the location where the anonymous messages will be posted has yet to be decided, Howard said that he hopes it will be centrally located.

“We are looking to make a wall where people can read the actual cards we have collected,” Howard said.

The group is still awaiting approval from the SAO before they can construct a wall, which will display the more than 20 postcards collected so far.

Howard, a senior, will not be on campus next year, but he wants to see the event next year.

“This is a good event to continue annually,” he said. “I believe that it will help students feel more welcome and no one will feel isolated.”