Student organizations plan Mental Health Awareness Month

Buttons+at+Student+Government+Board%E2%80%99s+meeting+last+week+in+support+of+Mental+Health+Awareness+Month.

Pamela Smith | Visual Editor

Buttons at Student Government Board’s meeting last week in support of Mental Health Awareness Month.

By Colm Slevin, Senior Staff Writer

When Danielle Floyd, the vice president of initiatives for Student Government Board, started planning for Mental Health Awareness Month, she said creating safe spaces on campus was the most important aspect.

“[The goal of] Mental Health Awareness month is to create [spaces] where we as students can have an open dialogue about the importance of mental health, mental illness, the stigma surrounding mental health and what that looks like in different communities,” Floyd, a junior economics major, said. 

Mental health is an important part of students’ lives, and the month of October is filled with events organized by student organizations that help raise awareness and start conversations about mental health. According to Floyd, the goal of MHAM is to create a lasting campus-wide effect beyond the month and equip students with resources around campus.

Some upcoming events include a self-care workshop on Monday at 6 p.m. at the William Pitt Union Dining Room A, organized by Pitt Active Minds. The events will help attendees develop self-care skills, such as making a vision board or a playlist for walking to class.  

There is also “Mindfulness and Guided Meditation” organized by the Rainbow Alliance next Thursday at 9 p.m. in the WPU Kurtzman Room. The event will discuss mindfulness and meditation techniques, such as breathing exercises.

MHAM is organized by student clubs on campus such as Pitt Active Minds, Oakland Outreach and more. According to Floyd, it’s for students and by students to communicate the importance of checking in with friends and taking care of mental health.

“Mental Health Awareness Month is a completely student-led effort because I think it means more to hear from our peers communicating the importance of mental health, rather than to have the month organized by one University department,” Floyd said. “However, we definitely lean on the counseling center to help provide support spaces for our events, just in case anyone is retriggered by the content we discuss.”

Dr. Jay Darr, director of the University Counseling Center, cited studies which proved that college graduates who received emotional support are three times more likely to report that they are “thriving” after college. He also mentioned another study which showed that depression, anxiety and stress are main factors in poor academic performance, and there is an inverse relationship between GPA and mental health concerns. 

Darr said statistics like these are why it is so important for Pitt to give mental support to its students.

Nadiyah Fisher, vice president of Pitt National Alliance on Mental Illness, said opening the conversation about mental health on campus is important to break the stigma. 

“I believe it’s important because of that long-lasting stigma, especially in communities of color, and marginalized communities as well,” Fisher said. “I think the first step is really just talking, I mean, that’s a big first step to really acknowledge that there is a stigma on campus, realizing that there’s resources to help as well. We need to be more involved with our experiences because that’s what connects people and makes them more comfortable with their mental health.”

According to Floyd, in the past year, SGB expanded its efforts to ensure these messages continue to spread across campus. After COVID-19, she said students need to be more connected with resources on campus and so SGB has moved to work with more student organizations.

Fisher, a junior neuroscience and psychology double major, said the events have been going well so far, but there has been a bit of hesitancy from students to share their struggles with mental health, which she understands since mental health can be hard to open up about. She thinks this is a great place to take that first step towards talking openly about your mental health. 

“Everybody at the events has been open to learn, but it’s also still timid,” Fisher said. “Even though the University has been making a big step of trying to make this an awareness month, by having us wear T-shirts and making it an initiative. There’s still some timidness when you’re in a room and you’re speaking about things that are very personal to you. I think this is a great first step for new people to be encouraged to talk about their mental health, and I think we just need to continue.”

Darr said students who need it should reach out and get the support they need through the University Counseling Center and other resources provided by Pitt, such as MHAM events, [email protected] or having conversations with other members of the Pitt community. 

Fisher said some of the events have trigger warnings on them, and it is important to figure out which events are best to attend.

“First I would also just assess your own mental health,” Fisher said. “You definitely don’t want to trigger yourself at any of the events, and a lot of the events have trigger warnings just in case because people will be sharing their experiences, but also just like assess where you’re at right now, and understanding if that event is for you, and if you feel like you’re not there yet, you can always get there.”

Floyd said she learned a lot by attending the MHAM events — about her own mental health and about how mental health stigmas started. She said she was humbled going to these events and getting to hear her peers’ stories.

“Through attending some of the events, I continue to build upon my understanding of the importance for which stigma was created, and have heard some truly amazing testimonials of people talking about their experiences throughout the month,” Floyd said. “It truly is such a humbling and rewarding moment to see all of the amazing events come together. We have been meeting as a planning group throughout the summer, and now we get to see the fruits of labor and the events that actually happened!”

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