The conversation regarding mental health has been ongoing throughout the 2015-16 academic year. In the fall, students filled the Sir Christopher Wren Courtyard as part of a sit-in asking alumni to help increase funding to the Counseling Center. In March, the Student Assembly presidential election featured three candidates whose platforms all focused heavily on mental health. Last week, members of SA’s executive branch and senate partnered to host Mental Health Awareness Week.
Over the course of the week, there was a white flag demonstration on the Sunken Garden to represent the approximately 1,100 college students who commit suicide each year, a showing of the documentary Free the Mind, yoga sessions and meditation.
According to SA Mental Health Undersecretary Delaney McAleer ’18, it is especially important to address mental health in the context of the College of William and Mary’s environment.
“I think that this week is really important to have on a campus like William and Mary,” McAleer said. “A lot of our students could benefit from opportunities to learn how to manage stress in a health way and that was my goal for getting involved with this week.”
Class of 2018 president Laini Boyd ’18, Sen. Shannon Dutchie ’19, Class of 2019 President Jonah Yesowitz ’19 and outgoing Sen. Ivanessa Staykova ’16 sponsored the Mental Health Awareness Week Act, which allocated $1,450 for materials needed for activities and events.
According to Boyd, the week’s activities provided students with opportunities to try new activities to better manage their stress.
“For example, this was my first time doing yoga and it was a good experience to see it could help me manage my stress,” Boyd said. “A lot of times we are busy and make excuses to not try new things, but having a week devoted to it makes these opportunities readily available. “
In the past, SA was not the primary organizer of Mental Health Awareness Week. Last year, although SA was a part of it, different student organizations scheduled events that were not necessarily coordinated together throughout the week. This year, McAleer made sure SA oversaw the organization of the week.
McAleer, who was not previously involved in Mental Health Awareness Week, thought it was important to bring together different aspects of campus.
“I think it’s important to address mental health because it’s a topic that a lot of people don’t like to talk about,” McAleer said. “It’s important to remember that it’s okay to not always be okay. If we take the opportunity that we have to start a conversation, we can address some of these issues. One of the things that I was proud of last week was bringing together different aspects of campus – counselors from the Counseling Center, professors, the Campus Recreation Center – by bringing together those different areas we could showcase different areas for managing stress on campus.”
I think it’s important to address mental health because it’s a topic that a lot of people don’t like to talk about,” McAleer said.
Next year, McAleer and Boyd suggested that more involvement from student organizations could improve the event and maximize its effects. Additionally, Boyd said that getting more yoga professors and professional instructors involved would give students more opportunities to practice managing their stress.
Reflecting on the week, Dutchie said that she hoped the week helped remove the stigma of mental health concerns for students on campus.
“Mental health awareness is extremely important especially since our society has made it a taboo topic,” Dutchie said. “This lack of discussion has caused a plethora of misconceptions about stereotypes that have caused countless people their lives and a lack of aid for very serious illnesses. By talking about the ‘untalkable’ William and Mary shows that they care about those students dealing with some type of mental illness everyday of their lives. Hopefully, this past week showed that those students are not alone and that there are people they can talk to that care about them.”
Mental health awareness is extremely important especially since our society has made it a taboo topic. This lack of discussion has caused a plethora of misconceptions about stereotypes that have caused countless people their lives and a lack of aid for very serious illnesses,” Dutchie said.