By SOLANGE ADAMSON ’16
Last Saturday, the Active Minds chapter at Wellesley hosted an all-day conference, “Active Steps: Transforming Mental Health on Campus,” on campus. The conference brought together presenters from universities and hospitals across the Northeast, national organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Health and students and health care practitioners from over 30 colleges and universities.
Lauren Springer ’14 and Katie Howe ’14, president and vice-president, respectively, of Active Minds, were responsible for organizing much of the conference. Springer and Howe hoped the conference would facilitate discussions about breaking down the barriers that prevent those sufferng from mental illnesses from receiving effective care. One of the themes of the conference was the stigma surrounding mental illness and the misconception that arises from it.
The conference focused on providing access to accurate information as a method of tackling stigma. The speakers and workshops covered many strategies for communities, friends and families to support those who have a mental illness.
According to Dr. Lawrence Yang, associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, stigma is caused in part by a lack of knowledge and an absence of open discussion about mental health issues.
The main theme of the conference this year was an exploration of psychosis.
The keynote speaker, Ben Boone, discussed his experiences in dealing with schizophrenia and the societal challenges people with mental illnesses face.
Boone expressed his reluctance to share his condition with the people he meets for fear of them misunderstanding. He said that as soon as people know that someone has a mental condition, this single fact erases the rest of his or her story.
“My entire past seemed to go away. I was no longer someone who had just graduated from college, who had aspirations,” Boone said. “You become part of a different class of society.”
Boone added that the societal challenges associated with having a mental illness make recovery that much harder.
“Having to deal with the stigma of society is like mental illness on top of mental illness,” Boone said.
According to Dr. Larry Seidman, a psychology professor at Harvard Medical School, the majority of people who develop a mental condition do so in high school or college because mental illness is tied to the social pressures of becoming an adult.
Yang analyzed the relationship between culture and stigma and the role it plays in dealing with mental health. He stated that college communities have their own cultural environments and can therefore foster the pressures that lead to stigmas.
Both Springer and Howe believe mental health concerns affect many students on campus.
“The Stone Center is doing a lot of really great work,” Howe said. “Our campus has this really great resource that we should take advantage of.”
According to Springer, 70 percent of Wellesley students visit the Stone Center for counseling at least once during their time on campus.
To reduce stress, Active Minds organizes events designed to create a dialogue about mental health issues on campus. Such events include Primal Scream, therapy dog sessions and group or individual meetings for students to talk about their concerns.
Members of Active Minds are available to speak with students who feel overwhelmed by the stress of course work, social relationships, family pressure or anything else they want to talk about.
“A lot of students come to me to talk, to relax a little bit. I think this environment can be very stressful and a friendly face to talk to can help a lot,” Howe said.
According to Howe the most common mental health issues among Wellesley students are anxiety and depression. Anxiety and depression can range in severity from one-time episodes to continual, debilitating conditions.
Springer explained that these issues often begin with or are worsened by the “culture of stress” at Wellesley.
“If we could start shifting that culture of stress into one that is more embracing of our accomplishments, I feel like that might benefit the Wellesley community [with respect to] the levels of anxiety and depression,” Springer said.