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Together we can shake it off

UMBC students assemble for a flash mob to raise awareness for mental illness

UMBC students assembled for a flash mob on Wednesday, May 6 to raise awareness for mental illness and the fight against stigma. The event was organized and led by Dr. Jason Schiffman of the Psychology department.

A sunny and warm Wednesday afternoon proved to be a great day for some dancing. That’s right, dancing. Droves of UMBC students and faculty members gathered in the plaza between the University Center and the Math and Psychology Building for what is quickly becoming an annual tradition: a flash mob.

Students and faculty members suddenly broke into a well choreographed dance, accompanied by Taylor Swift’s smash hit “Shake It Off.” But the flash mob was so much more than just some silly dance moves to a chart topping single. It was a way to raise campus awareness for mental illness and the attached stigma.

Stigma is a mark of disgrace associated with a certain quality. Dr. Jason Schiffman, the organizer of the event and associate professor in the Psychology department, said, “Stigma against mental illness is the main barrier against people getting the help that they need.”

Schiffman was adamant that stigma has no place in relation to mental illness and that by raising awareness, stigma can be lessened, thus creating a more inclusive community.

In regards to why he chose a flash mob to raise awareness, Schiffman said, “My family likes to dance a lot. We thought this was a fun way to raise awareness, and just [do] anything we can do to hit home the point.”

Of course, it is an ongoing battle to inform the public, but Schiffman believes that the challenge can be met with a partnership between awareness and education.

“The flash mob is to raise to awareness, and the panel allows people in the community to ask questions, share stories, gain insight and just get to know each other in new ways,” said Schiffman of the organized dance and discussion panel of mental illness that followed later in the day.

Schiffman’s students in PSYC 455, a course on schizophrenia, echoed a similar sentiment of extreme importance surrounding the awareness of mental illness.

Brandy Wainwright, a senior psychology major, explained that even though a mental disorder is not a physically painful or visible, it can be just as debilitating. “People think that just because you can physically feel something that it isn’t as serious. When in reality, even though you can see it, it can be just as bad. It can even be worse,” she said.

Andrew Pennington, a senior psychology major, shared an insight of his following a conversation he had with a friend who questioned why UMBC would offer a course on a disorder that impacts so little of the population.

Pennington said, “The depth of mental illness impacts a lot more than the individual. It impacts family and friends and strains relationships. If the number of people impacted by mental illness isn’t zero, then we should have a class on it.”