Club hosts week of events to raise awareness for mental illnesses
Selena Ponio | Tuesday, October 3, 2017
As students leave the library after a late night of studying, they are greeted with a slightly different version of a beloved mural: Touchdown Jesus lit up green.
This week, the Active Minds club — formerly National Alliance on Mental Illness — is hosting Irish State of MiND: Mental Illness Awareness Week with a series of events such as workshops and speakers. Junior co-president Jenna Wertsching said planning started at the end of last semester.
“The biggest thing I’m excited for is just the little things,” she said. “So seeing our posters around campus and having Touchdown Jesus green. It’s the little touches that can reach the whole student body and get everyone talking about it.”
The week starts off with three main events: a speaker Monday, a healing mass at the Grotto on Tuesday for people whose lives have been affected by mental illness and an event Wednesday titled “In Our Own Words,” where people share their stories about their own struggles with mental illness.
“I think it’s very easy to talk about mental illness as some external entity but it’s hard to talk about it as something that affects us and affects people we know,” Wertsching said.
Active Minds club officer and junior Monica Coundouriotis said she became a member of the club her freshman year because she was a psychology major and already had some initial interest in mental illnesses. [Editor’s Note: Coundouriotis is a Viewpoint copyeditor for The Observer.]
“As I became more involved in the club is when I realized how important it is and how it affects so many people, students especially,” she said. “The importance of having good mental health is huge, especially in college.”
It is important to instill the need to take care of your mental health at a young age, Coundouriotis. She said Active Minds raises awareness to try to eliminate the stigma attached to mental illnesses so that people feel comfortable talking about it.
“It’s OK to not be perfect — I feel like a lot of Notre Dame kids feel the need to be,” Coundouriotis said. “There is a strong pressure to feel like you have everything under control all the time and it’s just generally hard to talk about personal things with people.”
Wertsching said she is most excited for the “In Our Own Words” event because it allows students a platform to share their own stories in a way that promotes healing. She said this year the submissions are not restricted to simply written stories — there are also musical performances, poetry and dances.
“It’s a change of pace to see people be vulnerable to an audience,” Wertsching said.
The event, which takes place in the Jordan Hall Reading Room at 7 p.m. Wednesday, is one that offers students a chance to speak up if they want to, but people can attend without feeling the pressure to speak, Coundouriotis said.
“Even just going to an event during the week or a club meeting of ours would be a great step,” she said. “There’s no pressure, no one’s going to force you to talk until you’re ready. Especially hearing other people might help inspire you to talk.”
Learning coping methods and prioritizing her mental health helped her with her college transition, Wertsching said.
“It was a tough freshman year transition and I realized the importance of taking care of myself,” she said. “Once I was able to achieve that for myself I thought it was important to pass that message along to all of campus.”
Wertsching said she credits Active Minds for helping her realize she was not alone in how she was feelings and always connecting her with a variety of campus resources.
“I’ve come to realize that both administrators and student groups on campus that are all working towards the same goal of destigmatizing mental illness and helping students realize that they’re not alone,” she said.