October 15, 2015

Mental Health Awareness Week Kicks Off, Aims to Stomp Out Stigma

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Today marks the start of the first Mental Health Awareness Week, which lasts until Oct. 23 and will feature events around campus designed to promote the awareness and understanding of mental health issues.

“I feel like a lot of students are afraid to come out of their comfort zones and talk about mental health, especially with Cornell’s atmosphere, but they need to know that people are going to help them,” said Maria Chak ’18, one of the week’s organizers and Student Assembly vice president of outreach.

The week kicks off with a talk by Frank Warren, also known as “The Most Trusted Stranger in America” and the founder of PostSecret, a website that posts anonymous submissions of “secrets” sent in from all over the country. PostSecret begun in 2005 as an art project when Warren asked people to submit their secrets on creatively decorated postcards. He has since accumulated over 1,000,000 secrets and has compiled them into six books.

“Warren has worked with crisis hotlines on college campuses to address mental health issues,” said Angelica Cullo ’17, the large events coordinator for the Cornell Minds Matter e-board. “If you like Humans of New York, you should check out PostSecret.”

Mental Health Awareness Week will also include a variety of events, such as yoga on the Arts Quad and a Willard Straight Hall exhibit titled “Faces of Mental Health.”

According to Tiffany Guo ’16, the exhibit features portraits of students and descriptions of the struggles they faced.

“We asked students to share stories of their personal struggles and how they addressed resolving them. Each portrait highlighted their individual experiences,” said Guo, the series event coordinator for Cornell Minds Matter. “I think this is a great way for students to speak out about mental issues and encourage others to do so as well.”

Mental Health Awareness Week will come to a close with an event called “Dining with Diverse Minds” on next Friday, which will bring an estimated 150 students, faculty and staff together in an active discussion about mental health issues. Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, will be speaking about mental health in relation to higher education at the event.

The event is being co-sponsored by over 25 student organizations, with an estimated cost between $12,000 and $15,000, according to Matt Indimine ’18, a principal organizer of Mental Health Awareness Week and co-chair of the S.A. Health and Wellness Committee. Most of the money is allocated to hosting Frank Warren’s talk and for providing food at the various events, although some companies, such as Insomnia Cookies, have agreed to make donations.

“We’ve been planning this since May,” Indimine said.

A variety of organizations including the African, Latino, Asian and Native American Programming Board, Cornell Minds Matter and many others are collaborating to make the week a success and reduce the stigma associated with seeking help.

“Mental health issues affect everyone in a different way, which is why there are so many organizations involved,” Indimine explained.

Another one of Mental Health Awareness Week’s main objectives is to promote available resources on campus such as Counseling and Psychological Services at Gannett, Let’s Talk and EARS.

For Carolina Bieri ’16, co-chair of the S.A. Health and Wellness Committee, Mental Health Awareness Week is important because students sometimes neglect their well-being.

“I think that people on this campus ignore their personal health far too often — most notably their mental health — and if we can get people to think how they’re taking care of themselves, even just a little more often, then we’ve accomplished something,” Bieri said.

Mental Health Awareness Week was approved and sponsored by the S.A. following the passage of Resolution 6: “Mental Health Week Recognition.” The resolution cites multiple reasons supporting the perceived necessity of the promotion of mental health awareness, such as the fact that 1,100 college students die each year by suicide, which is the third leading cause of death among youth.