Food for thought: Mental health discussed at Community Dinner

University students and staff join to destigmatize mental health

Rachel Milio, Contributing Writer

A variety of students and faculty gathered in Larison Dining Hall on Sept. 25 as part of a series of monthly community dinners hosted by the University. This month’s theme was Food For Thought: Mental Health, and worked with the on-campus organization Active Minds to discuss the stigmatization of mental health issues.

Active Minds is a national organization founded in 2003 that believes “mental health needs to be talked about as easily as physical health.” Through the community dinner, the University chapter of Active Minds seeks to encourage open discussion of mental health amongst students. Our goal tonight is to learn, teach, and listen to each other,” organization President Julian Ricketson ’21 said.

Active Minds Vice President Evelin Morales ’21 opened the discussion with a music video by pop musician Melanie Martinez to discuss the negative representation of mental health that sometimes is expressed in pop culture.

“They’re using their platforms to steer the conversation the wrong way,” Morales said of Martinez’s song “Mad Hatter,” which depicts mental health in a way that Morales believes “promotes the fear of talking to people about our problems.”

Before entering the dining hall, guests were invited to pull colored pieces of paper from a bag to determine their seating. Thus, strangers were encouraged to openly and respectfully discuss mental health stigma. The dinners operate under several guidelines, including “allow yourself to be vulnerable” and “strive for understanding before criticizing.”

Professor of Classics & Ancient Mediterranean Studies Janet Jones reflected positively on the event: “I’ve been here for 29 years and it wasn’t until recently that we started talking openly about mental health.”

Jones agrees with the message of the event that students need to reach out for help. “The counseling center is not just for extreme cases, it’s for everybody,” Jones said, referring to the University Counseling and Student Development Center, which can be called 24 hours a day and 365 days a year for students who are in need of support.

Ricketson spoke on behalf of Active Minds, conveying that the problem of mental health is larger than most assume. “One out of five adults will experience mental illness,” he said. Going further, Ricketson said, “Suicide is the second leading cause of death among students.”

“On a college campus, students don’t want to show vulnerability,” Jones said, addressing the complexity of mental health treatment.

Through the discussion of mental health, Active Minds hopes to encourage more students to speak out about their mental health and reach out for help.

“I loved that they encouraged discussion,” Elizabeth Lagerback ’22 said. “Destigmatizing mental health would make it easier to support my friends and reach out for help from professors and other adults.”

Julia Oshrin ’19 had a similar reaction. “I thought the event was super cool. Mental health is super important to talk about,” she said.

Ricketson concluded by hoping that the community dinner increased “student and staff interest in meaningful dialogue” and progressed towards “changing the stigma revolving around mental health.”

If you or a friend are struggling with mental health, the Counseling and Student Development Center can be reached any hour of any day at 570.577.1604.

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