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End the mental illness stigma

| Friday, October 10, 2014

It would be difficult for anyone to walk by the south façade of the Hesburgh Library this week without noticing the green hue illuminating the entirety of the monumental Jesus mural. But at other times and in other places, we often walk right past the signs of mental illness.

The green light provides a necessary visual reminder of the ongoing Irish State of Mind and Support a Belle, Love a Belle weeks. Coinciding with National Mental Health Awareness week, events on both campuses have been encouraging awareness, solidarity and dialogue about mental illness.

The week of programming reinforces the crucial importance of creating a safe, supportive environment for open discussion and reflection on mental illness. Both literally and symbolically, organizers strove to bring mental health issues out of the dark and shed light on the experiences of our fellow students. When we respond to these efforts, we can work toward ending the stigmatization of mental illness.

This week is just one of the initial steps the University has taken toward progress in dealing with the challenges of mental illness. The recently announced $10-million grant for the McDonald Center for Student Well-Being is a vital step. We hope that going forward, we can all educate ourselves on mental illness and this generous funding will be applied to the development of more preventative and supportive health resources on campus.

We applaud these recent efforts for setting a strong and essential foundation for mental health awareness – it is necessary that our schools are willing and able to provide adequate and sustainable mental health resources to their students. While counseling options do exist for students seeking therapy, we’ve been told many students encounter waitlists when attempting to schedule appointments and express concern that the University Counseling Center is under-staffed.

Furthermore, some students are hesitant to seek help, fearing the stigma associated with therapy. To make more resources available, Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s  could develop other types of support systems for students, such as student-led support groups, student ambassadors in dorms or more options for classes and individual educational opportunities about mental health. This way, students could better understand mental illness and find the support that they need from their peers.

Just as mental illness is not confined to a specific week, our efforts at both Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s should not be finite. It is our responsibility to ensure this issue does not remain in the dark when it should be a priority in our hearts and minds. We all must make our desire for a healthier future a reality. We all deserve the opportunity to fight for ourselves.

As the Irish State of Mind and Support a Belle, Love a Belle weeks come to a close, we must remind ourselves that these should not be seen as a collection of isolated events. Rather, they are the beginning of an ongoing discussion. We must ensure that awareness becomes action.

So don’t ignore the green light on the Word of Life mural. Ask more of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s in terms of mental health care and find ways every day to support the continued well-being of our entire community.

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