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Student-led organization promotes Mental Health Week on Ole Miss campus

The Oxford Eagle - 4/13/2018

Active Minds, a University of Mississippi student organization, is hosting a mental health week March 26-29 to start a conversation about the importance of mental health and well-being.

The week will begin with the Send Silence Packing exhibition. This traveling program demonstrates the number of college students lost each year to suicide by placing a single backpack on the ground to represent each student.

More than 1,100 backpacks will be in the Grove from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday. Each backpack has a story attached to it.

Kathryn Forbes, Ole Miss Active Minds president, wanted to bring this exhibition to campus to illustrate and raise awareness of the impact of suicide while connecting students with mental health resources.

"It opens the campus's eyes to how many students needed to have these mental health conversations with people," Forbes said. "I hope some students read the stories attached to these backpacks and see how speaking up could help others. This is a powerful statement about how mental health affects college students.

"I look forward to the conversations started by Send Silence Packing and the positive changes it will make in the way students view the importance of mental health awareness."

Active Minds is a national organization, founded in 2003 by Alison Malmon, who was a junior at the University of Pennsylvania at the time. She lost her brother to suicide and wanted to implement a way for college campuses to reduce the stigma of mental illness and encourage students who need help to seek it out.

More than 400 chapters of the organization have been created on college campuses. Active Minds has been at Ole Miss for two years, thanks in large part to Forbes.

"I wanted to bring Active Minds to our campus because while I was fighting my own battles against depression and anxiety, I noticed others were secretly struggling as well," Forbes said. "I was always open about my history and I found that others were wanting to talk about it with me once they realized they were not the only ones who have sought help."

She said she was particularly drawn to this organization because it lets students know they can and should talk openly about mental health.

"Discussing mental health is important for so many reasons," she said. "It lets people know that they're not alone in their struggles or successes. People should know that mental health is just as, if not more, important than physical health, and that the stigmas associated with it are outdated and ignorant.

"Most importantly, the more we talk about mental health, the easier it is for others to do so. It can become a part of normal conversation. Less people will feel the need to hide their struggles with mental health and no longer be ashamed to say they understand what it is like to struggle with depression or anxiety or a long list of other prominent issues."

Because students are starting the conversation about mental health, they can work to change the culture that contributes to mental health issues, said Bud Edwards, director of the University Counseling Center.

"If these conversations are based on good information, we can spread good information," he said. "We can also decrease the stigma associated with mental health. Students are often resistant in seeking mental health until things get bad, and we hope to change that behavior."

Discussing signs and symptoms of mental health conditions, available resources and ways to encourage others to seek help are all possible outcomes of having conversations about mental health.

"Many of the issues we see here are anxiety, depression and relationship issues, which are all connected stress," Edwards said.

Factors that contribute to student stress include issues such as substance abuse, lack of sleep, inadequate diet or little to no exercise, all of which can cause an impairment of function in the classroom and the workplace.

"When people think about mental health, they often think about the diagnosis, but the issue is much broader than that," he said. "The decisions people make play a large role in having a mental health diagnosis, and making good choices can decrease the development of a diagnosable concern."

The week of events includes guest speakers, exhibits and raffles.

"Ole Miss is special in that its students are so willing to become involved in campus activities, which is why Mental Health Week will reach a lot of students," Forbes said. "I hope that the students who are currently struggling can look around and see that they are not alone.

"I hope that those who have struggled in the past can share their successes and failures with other students as well. I hope that the conversations Ole Miss has during Mental Health Week begin to take place more often and with louder, more confident voices."


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