The fourth annual Mental Health Awareness Week is starting Friday to engage students in discussions about mental health stigmas and encourage them to think more critically about their own emotional well-being and that of the surrounding community.
The event, which aims to increase awareness of mental health problems, will also feature mental health organizations that usually do not have a “large voice in the campus community,” according to Matthew Jirsa ’19, co-chair of the week.
There are currently 30 participating organizations, Jirsa said, including Cornell Minds Matter, Reflect Cornell and Alpha Phi Omega.
“Cupcake a Cornellian” on Friday will kick off the week to raise money for The Sophie Fund, a grassroots advocacy organization established in 2016 to support mental health initiatives in the Ithaca and Tompkins County area. As the event name suggests, participating students can purchase cupcakes to smash into their friends’ faces to fund the group.
Scott MacLeod, co-founder of The Sophie Fund, explained that one complicating layer of mental health is the stigma surrounding it, which can often prevent students from finding the right support system.
MacLeod argued that this stigma is not only “preventing students from seeking help,” but also “multiplying layers of pressure” experienced by those already in a mental health situation.
Jirsa also mentioned that mental health stigmas alienates those suffering from mental health issues by generating a campus atmosphere that weighs emotional health less than other health problems.
“The basis of stigma is that people have a negative belief towards other people,” Jirsa said. “If you don’t have a mental illness or disorder, you tend to place those that do in an ‘other category’ that is undesirable.”
Jirsa said that students must move beyond the stigma and encourage their peers to seek help in order to create a stronger, more positive campus community.
“At the end of the day, we are the community that we aspire to be,” Jirsa said. “That’s what I think this week is about: getting people to think introspectively about their own mental health and how they can better serve themselves.”
Pressure from school work also adds to the existing mental health issues, according to MacLeod. He said that by enrolling the “best and brightest” students of the country, most highly accredited universities create an inherently pressurized environment.
“When you are not able to do your best, it does affect your self-esteem,” MacLeod told The Sun. “It something that is hard to admit to yourself, let alone to show that to other peers.”
Mental Health Awareness Week will conclude with a call-to-action event, which is meant to start a discussion amongst students, one that will extend beyond a single week and will encourage Cornellians to become part of a larger conversation to foster long-term change.
The student-led mental health task force aims to submit a recommendation to the administration on how to address mental health issues on-campus at the call-to-action event. The recommendation will be open to suggestions and discussion, according to Joanna Hua ’20, co-chair of the task force said.
“In past years, we had fun and focused on de-stressing but, as we know, that is not going to get to the bottom of the issues that we face,” Jirsa said. “This week is not only for people with mental illnesses — it is more for people without mental illness.”