Student Assembly hosts "Stop Hiding, Start Talking" programming

by Paula Mendoza | 11/2/15 8:08pm

Student Assembly will conclude this term’s installments of its “Stop Hiding, Start Talking” campaign to raise awareness about mental health this week with several panels and a relaxation event.

On Monday, the organization hosted a discussion about anxiety and substance abuse at Phi Taugender-inclusivefraternity. On Wednesday, the Assembly, alongside Counseling and Human Development, will co-sponsor a “Relaxation Fest” at Collis Common Ground.

The campaign will culminate in an all-day event on Thursday — “Sticker Day.” Students will wear customizable stickers that allow them to share issues with which they are struggling. Even if students choose not to fill out the sticker, Assembly president Frank Cunningham ’16 said he hopes students wear it in honor of the unspoken challenges students face. The sticker can serve as a gesture of support for the several students who, he said, will line up to share personal testimonies related to mental illness at the an event titled “Behind the Mask” in Rollins Chapel that evening.

Wearing a sticker can be a powerful statement — it illustrates that the student understands that mental health can be a delicate and challenging subject, Assembly vice president Dari Seo ’16 said.

“It’s okay to be vulnerable,” Seo said. “At the end of the day, our main message is to say, ‘I’m here for you,’ and wearing this sticker is our way to show that I want to listen to you.”

The Assembly’s events are hosted in partnership with many other campus organizations, including Active Minds, Palaeopitus Senior Society, Counseling and Human Development, Student Wellness Center and the Office of Pluralism and Leadership. Cunningham noted that the diversity of campus bodies involved with the campaign illustrates the scope of the issue.

When addressing the name of the campaign “Stop Hiding, Start Talking,” which has triggered controversy among students, Cunningham said the name did exactly what it was supposed to do.

“It got people talking,” he said.

Assembly head of health and wellness Speight Carr ’16 said that Assembly recognizes that the campaign cannot completely erase the challenges associated with speaking about mental health.

“It’s a grandiose dream for us to think we can completely destigmatize mental health,” Carr said. “But through these discussions, we think we are starting to chip away and get people talking.”

As a part of their campaign, the Assembly presented a term-long discussion series beginning in October. The first panel, titled “Sexuality, Identity and Mental Health,” aimed to spark conversation about the struggles of Dartmouth students trying to find their identities.

“It’s really cool because [mental health and sexuality are] not really talked about in conjunction,” Xander Johnson ’18, who attended the event, said. “It’s nice to see the two being addressed together.”

Willow Pagán ’19 attended the most recent discussion, “Coping with the Rigors of College Life,” to support a friend who helped plan it. This particular conversation sought to promote understanding of college stressors and available resources. Pagán said she was not expecting it to be so relevant to her life.

“When I left, I felt more at ease. I ended up getting a lot out of it,” Pagán said.

Both events included small group discussions, which Johnson said promoted more thoughtful dialogue.

Pagán said she enjoyed taking a moment to pause and sit and talk with caring people.

“I sat with people I never met before. I liked that because I got a lot of different perspectives,” Pagán said.

Many colleges and universities around the country are also increasing awareness of mental health. In the Ivy League, Yale University has undertaken significant work in the past few years regarding mental health issues. For example, their Mental Health and Counseling department has bolstered staff, and Yale announced “The Wellness Project,” which aims to enhance support for mental health services and inspire a culture of holistic wellness.

“We’ve taken this into our hands and definitely advocated this as an issue, not only because it’s something we see as important but it’s something that has received a significant amount of campus dialogue,” Yale College Council vice president Madeline Bauer, a junior, said.

Princeton University has held an annual Mental Health Week and boosted additional resources and programs. Four years ago, a committee called the Princeton Mental Health Initiative was founded, which aims to improve access to resources, reduce stigma and spark dialogue, Princeton Undergraduate Student Government president Ella Cheng, a senior, said.

“We have another entire committee of 10 to 12 people who focus on projects related to mental health,” Cheng said.

During Mental Health Week last year, a professional photographer captured students who shared hopes and stories of loss for the Dear World Project. Princeton also participates in an activity called the Me Too Monologues, originally created by students at Duke University in 2009, in which anonymous students write monologues about their own experiences with mental health. These monologues are then edited, directed and performed by students.

Dartmouth and Princeton have taken a more visible approach to raise awareness, but Bauer said the Yale College Council does not seek an awareness campaign. Instead, because the University wants to ensure students feel comfortable speaking about mental health issues, the College Council prefers to work through collaboration with the Yale administration.

“The administration is really open to hear what the students have to say about certain issues. They want the students to have the best possible experience when they go and use university resources,” Bauer said.

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