Honors Student Council helps to bring awareness to mental illness

Honors Student Council helps to bring awareness to mental illness

Anjanae Crump, Contributor

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults experience a mental health illness in a given year. NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.

This past week, the Honors Student Council at the University of New Orleans participated in various events in order help further the cause and raise awareness.

“NAMI holds a special place in my heart as someone who has mental health issues. I think it’s important that we raise awareness and show that you can do anything, regardless of all that,” said UNO Honors Student Council President Michelle Butcher. “Yes, I’m the president of Honors, and yes, I have a mental illness, and I’m here every year walking to ‘stamp out stigma.’”

Butcher was not alone. Hundreds of walkers gathered at Audubon park on Saturday morning to help raise awareness. Many of them were affected by mental illness in some way.

“Depression’s affected me in ways that I don’t think a lot of people would anticipate. It’s hard to make commitments to things when you anticipate having a depressive episode. I’ve gotten better about it, but you say you’re going to do something Saturday, and then you don’t want to wake up. You get physical symptoms; obviously, the mental is a part of it, too, but it hurts relationships because people don’t understand, usually. They think you’re just lazy,” said Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance walker Rosa Johnson.

“This walk is important to me because I really believe that the more people come out and take the stigma-free pledge and support mental illness, then we don’t have to hide anymore. We don’t have to be afraid and make excuses on why we can’t do this or live in this perpetual madness anymore,” Johnson added.

Dominique Augustine, a walker with JenCare Medical Center and a victim of postpartum depression, said, “I think it’s important that people know that there’s help. A lot of people suffer with mental illness and they don’t get help or are probably unaware of what’s out here for them.”

Organizations like NAMI and Stamp Out Stigma work to open the dialogue on mental health and offer the very help that Butcher, Johnson and Augustine cite as important. NAMI offers various services, including mental education courses, support groups, a HelpLine, and various events like the NAMIWalk.

The Honors Student Council recently put together a few of their own events in order raise money for NAMI.

“The goal of all our events,” said Butcher, “[the goal of] the thrift sale, the bake sale, and things of that nature, is simply to raise funds to help [NAMI] to continue, since they are a nonprofit. So we held a bake sale on Sept. 26 and raised $300. We had a thrift sale on Monday, Oct. 10 and we raised only about $80, which is why we’re actually doing a part deux, if you will, on Oct. 24 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. outside the UC, and all proceeds will continue to go to this wonderful organization.”

Butcher added, “For the first [thrift sale], a lot of people said they wished they’d have known earlier because they wanted to donate…So we’re going to go ahead and do a second event so that we can get more people involved. Counseling services will be co-programming with us to help talk about mental health, and October is Depression Awareness Month, so they’re going to be having some information on that as well. It’s going to be a good time.”

While participating in the upcoming thrift sale is one way to get involved, Butcher explained that there are many other ways. “You can become a member of NAMI yourself as an individual; you can participate in any of their outside fundraising activities, and they have things going on all over the city, all year. Students can make teams on their own and raise money with their own different fundraisers, like we’ve done, or they can volunteer with NAMI. They’re always looking for volunteers for different things. There’s a bunch of different ways you can get involved.”

However, some acts of support require nothing more than what’s already inside of you. Emily Holley, a walker with Mid City Rotary said, “Just show your support to your friends and loved ones and strangers and anybody.”

To learn more about NAMI visit www.nami.org, and to take the Stamp out Stigma pledge, visit www.stampoutstigma.com. Students may also call Counseling Services at 504-280-6683 for help on campus.