WM Speaks organizes day to recognize mental health

Three College of William and Mary students have partnered with Humans of William and Mary and Active Minds to present WM Speaks: Wear Your Ribbon Day, an event designed to encourage conversation about mental illness on campus, April 29.

April 26 to 29, volunteers will be handing out ribbons of four different colors — each representing a different experience with mental illness — on the Sadler Center terrace.

Green ribbons are for individuals who have experienced mental illness and would like to share their story, while purple ribbons are for those who have experienced mental illness but are not comfortable sharing their story.

Blue ribbons are for students whose loved ones have experienced mental illness, and gold ribbons are for those who support individuals suffering from mental illness.

Wednesday, students will be encouraged to wear their ribbons and share their personal stories at a HoWM booth on the terrace.

Erin Goodstein ’17, Julie Santanna ’17 and Kody Carmody ’17 — the event organizers — decided to plan WM Speaks in the wake of Paul Soutter ‘17’s passing.

“My friends [and I] didn’t know him directly, but we had a lot of friends who were very close to him,” Goodstein said. “The grief and the trauma were very upfront, and we felt we had to do something to make sure that … mental illness has a presence on our campus and it doesn’t have to get to the point of someone dies before there’s recognition of that.”

In order to plan the event, the three reached out to organizations on campus such as the Student Assembly and the Residence Hall Association, in addition to current partners HoWM and Active Minds.

“[We] were really just able to mobilize everyone because it’s an issue so many people saw as a problem,” Santanna said. “It was a lot of energy from individuals who were affected and then the support of big organizations that were willing to send info through listservs and get in contact with people like that.”

In order to keep conversation going during and after the event, Goodstein, Santanna and Carmody plan to offer prompts for how to discuss mental illness with individuals wearing certain ribbon colors.

Additionally, HoWM will take interviews from the event and release them through the coming school year.

“The idea is we want to keep this going,” Carmody said. “[We] don’t want this discussion to just end with the end of the year. … What’s really important to us is keeping this discussion continuing into next semester, so HoWM is going to build up a cache of interviews and kind of space these out and make them last as long as possible.”

In the aftermath of the event, Goodstein said she hopes members of the community feel more comfortable talking about mental illness from a personal perspective.

Santanna also emphasized the importance of changing the culture of mental illness at the College in order to allow for openness in asking for help and expressing that one is suffering.

“It can feel like you’re alone and that depression is a really individualized beast, like it can vary widely in how it expresses itself in people,” Carmody said, “but we just want to let people know that there are others who have had these experiences. We’re willing to help and willing to talk and listen, and so another thing is we want to help people who haven’t had these experiences but want to support those who do. We want to give them tools to help, basically just try to understand what it’s like and what they can do to help.”


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