Mental illness is all too often discussed behind closed doors, and this is what Cornell Minds Matter sought to combat by hosting a “Speak Out” panel discussion to facilitate conversations about mental illness on Monday.
CMM social chair and resource center staff member Kristina Wagner ’17 organized the event as part of a project to share mental health experiences through panel discussions and video footage.
“It’s an opportunity for students to share their personal experience with mental illness because storytelling is one of the most effective ways to reduce stigma,” she said. “In fact, it might even be the only powerful way to reduce stigma.”
Wagner also hopes to create a video to show at all future panel discussions on campus.
“We’re putting together a video that’s not as detailed as a discussion panel would be, but just to give a face to mental illness to show that there’s a whole other invisible side to people that nobody else sees, that people walk around with all kinds of problems,” she said.
Panels explore different areas of mental illness based on the experiences of three student speakers, according to Wagner.
“I’m hoping that I impact the people that come to the event,” Wagner said. “I want students to be able to come hear their peers talk about something that they don’t hear their peers talk about otherwise. These could be minor things that they feel they’re experiencing alone and this is an opportunity for them to understand and hear personally that they’re not alone in dealing with these issues.”
CMM hosts programs dealing with a wide range of topics relevant to mental health. The students on the panel at Monday’s event discussed topics ranging from transgender issues to eating disorders to students who are simply experiencing stress.
“The main mission of CMM is to advocate for the positive mental health of all students,” Wagner added. “We do that through advocacy and programming and outreach within Cornell and the wider Ithaca community. We serve to be a resource for students.”
CMM provides a personal and interactive organization for students, a service that fills the gap in Cornell’s mental health outreach, according to Wagner.
“I think Cornell is very good with providing a support network,” Wagner said. “I think we have a caring community; we have tons of resources to support everyone. But I think I’m filling a gap because one of the biggest problems with the stigma of mental illness is we talk about it in this way where we know it exists but we don’t necessarily identify with it. We don’t necessarily reveal that we individually deal with mental health.”
Wagner has always had a passion for mental health, and when she became involved in CMM she started to dedicate more time and energy to helping other students on campus.
“I’m an advocate for mental health,” she said. “I have more experience with it than most people do. I spend so many hours of my week dedicated to improving people’s mental health, and yet it’s still difficult for me to say that I struggle with mental illness. So, I think there’s a big difference between saying that resources exist and actually identifying with mental illness.”