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NAMI-ND hosts Mental Illness Awareness Week

| Sunday, October 4, 2015

Wei LinWei Lin | The Observer

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in a five-day series discussing mental health at Notre Dame in recognition of Mental Illness Awareness Week.

Each night during the first week of October, a green light illuminates Touchdown Jesus on Hesburgh Library. But the light isn’t meant to cheer on the Irish football team.

The green light marks the annual Irish State of Mind Week, the University’s recognition of National Mental Illness Awareness Week.

Events this week, planned by Notre Dame’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI-ND), were designed to raise awareness and spark conversations across campus about mental illness.

Junior Katie Paige, president of NAMI-ND, said the purpose of the week is to encourage discussions about mental illness, with the ultimate goal of increasing mental health throughout the Notre Dame community.

“Through Irish State of Mind, NAMI joins the fight to end stigma, provide support, educate the Notre Dame and the South Bend community and stand in solidarity with those who are struggling with mental illness,” Paige said.

Junior Joseph Yoon, service coordinator for NAMI-ND, said he believes Irish State of Mind Week provides an outlet for individuals to talk about mental health.

“I don’t think there’s any tangible goal,” he said. “It’s about being able to provide different events that anyone can go to. It’s about being able to provide a week where we can focus on different aspects of dealing with mental health and being able to reach out to the community in every way we can.”

For Monday night, NAMI-ND organized “Food for Thought,” a dinner and discussion led by Susan Steibe-Pasalich, director of the University Counseling Center (UCC), and Erica Kelsey, a consultant for the Campus Assessment and Response Education Team. The event will be held at 6 p.m. in Jordan 105.

Yoon said NAMI aims to educate students about the resources available on campus through the event.

The club will host “In Our Own Words” on Tuesday night in the LaFortune Ballroom. Paige said the event, where 10 Notre Dame students will share their own stories describing the ways in which mental illness has affected their lives, proved successful last year.

“I think that it’s a really tangible way to break down the stigma, to have Notre Dame students be actually talking about their own experiences,” she said.

Wednesday night, students will gather at the Grotto to celebrate Mass during “an evening of prayer and remembrance for those whose lives have been touched by mental illness,” according to the NAMI-ND Facebook page.

Kevin Breel, a TEDx Talk speaker, will talk about his own experiences with depression Thursday at 7 p.m. in DeBartolo 102. Breel will share his message of hope in the face of mental illness, Yoon said.

“[Breel] has millions of views on his Ted Talk,” he said. “Being able to bring someone who’s actually been public about his struggle with mental illness is, I think, a great way to bring everybody in because he’ll be a great speaker and be able to draw a lot of attention to the week.”

NAMI-ND and student government will wrap up the week by screening “Inside Out” in Washington Hall at 7 p.m. Friday.

Paige said she hopes Irish State of Mind Week will have long-lasting effects by changing the way students discuss the topic of mental health on campus.

“I think that a lot of people don’t know how to approach mental health,” she said. “It’s very taboo. People aren’t sure how to give their friends help, and they aren’t sure how to ask for help. I just want people to start talking about it and be more open about it.”

NAMI-ND began planning and fundraising for Irish State of Mind Week last spring with the help of Student Government, the UCC and other organizations from Notre Dame and South Bend, Paige said.

University President Emeritus Fr. Edward “Monk” Malloy reflected on his personal experiences with mental illness at the Irish State of Mind kickoff event Friday.

Malloy described his time working at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington D.C., a federal psychiatric facility for patients with severe cases of mental illness.

“I got to know people who were in jail initially for murder and rape and arson and robbery and any kind of thing that you can imagine,” Malloy said. “By reading their files, I saw some of the horrible things they had done, but I also came to appreciate that many of them seemed like everyone else that I knew.

“I learned that you just don’t know by reading the file or what they’re accused of doing what potential they have for establishing a new life at some point in the future.”

Malloy said it is important to consider the different degrees of mental illness, noting that a number of students at the University suffer from some level of anxiety, depression or addiction, among other mental illnesses.

“No matter who you’re talking about or what dorm you live in … there are people at any given moment who are struggling with one kind of level of mental illness or another,” he said.

The Notre Dame residence hall system helps provide support for students struggling with mental illness, Malloy said.

“I know in orientation, we try to make the case that whatever you’re struggling with — whether it’s homesickness or some problem in your family or personal health issues or whatever it might be — there are people available, willing and able to be there for you and to be motivated to maintain those kinds of relationships in the long term,” he said.

Malloy said Irish State of Mind Week should encourage students to reach out to others who may feel alone, abandoned, stigmatized, forgotten or unworthy, using Jesus’ healing ministry as an example for action.

“The tangible symbol … of green on Touchdown Jesus is a colorful way of expressing [that] we are trying to evolve into a community of caring, of tender concern and of light for those who sometimes are overwhelmed by the darkness,” he said.

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About Katie Galioto

Katie, The Observer's former Managing Editor, is a senior majoring in political science, with minors in Business Economics and Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She's an ex-Walsh Hall resident who now lives off campus and hails from Chanhassen, Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter @katiegalioto.

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