The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) states that in any given year one in four adults experience a mental illness; that is approximately 61.5 million Americans. To put this in perspective, Texas has a population greater than 26.96 million according to the U.S. Census Bureau; this means the number of Americans living with a mental illness is more than double the population of the nation’s second largest state.
Sunday, Oct. 2 through Saturday, Oct. 8 was National Mental Illness Awareness Week. According to the UNH social work department Clinical Assistant Professor and Ph.D. William Lusenhop, the purpose of this week is to raise awareness of mental health issues and combat the stigma surrounding mental illness and the people experiencing it. Honoring this effort and spreading awareness on campus, social work graduate students enrolled in Human Behavior in the Social Environment III, coordinated campus-wide events centered on reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness.
“It’s our duty as social workers to break the stigma,” social work graduate student Caroline Young said. “We want people to tell their story.”
The week opened with team UNH Social Work’s participation on the Annual NAMI Walk for Recovery from Mental Illness. According to Lusenhop, 35 members of the UNH community traveled to Concord, New Hampshire to take part in the walk raising awareness of mental illness on Oct. 2. Lusenhop said the team raised almost $4,000 for NAMI, which, according to its website, “is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.”
“I hope people see that anyone living with a mental health issue is no different from themselves,” Lusenhop said. “That people will give a pause if they think negatively about people living with emotional issues.”
A panel presentation on Wednesday, Oct. 5 invited guests to speak on various mental illness topics. Among them was sophomore student and Stop the Stigma campus organization member Jordan Leikin. Leikin, who lost his sister to suicide, emphasized during his presentation that stigma is the obstacle in the way of discussing and understanding mental illness.
“I think it’s very powerful to reach out and ask someone how their day is going,” Leikin said. “Ask someone how they’re feeling; anything to make someone feel like they’re not alone will do wonders.”
According to Lusenhop, college students are not immune to mental health issues. Adjusting to campus life, especially for first year students, can be a vulnerable time of change.
Representing the UNH Counseling Center in the panel discussion was Assistant Director of Outreach and Assessment Sean Moundas, who emphasized self-care. The Counseling Center, located on the third floor of Smith Hall, is available for all students. Short term and group counseling sessions are available, as well as anonymous online services. Students considering seeking out services, or anyone concerned with a friend’s mental health, is encouraged to take advantage of the guidance available on campus.
For the duration of Mental Health Awareness Week, the “Stiggy Display,” consisting of two pink elephants, sat by the elevators on the third floor of Dimond Library. According to Young, the larger of the two elephants represented the “elephant in the room,” in this case, the large prevalence of mental illness that is not being addressed in our culture. The smaller of the two elephants displayed “I have, I am” cards, where people anonymously shared mental health experiences, along with who they are; a parent, a teacher, a friend, etc.
“We are what we are,” Young said. “But we are not our mental illness.”