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NAMI hosts mental health awareness week

How can you tell if your student organization is making a difference on campus? Sometimes, people come out and tell you.

“I’ve even gotten personal messages on Facebook. … people telling me, I’m so glad NAMI is on campus,” said sophomore biology major Bhuvana Kotana. “People are learning things from NAMI. They send me things like thank you for having these events and talking about mental health conditions.”

From April 24-28, the UMBC chapter of National Alliance on Mental Illness held an event each day. This is the second year in a row that they have had an entire week dedicated to mental health awareness. Executive board members pulled all the stops, including everything from film screenings to pies-to-the-face to dogs.

For many, the most-anticipated event was the “You Are Not Alone Festival,” which took place on Thursday starting at 4 p.m. Students gathered in the Gameroom to eat snacks, play pool, make stress balls, and collect information about mental illnesses. Students stayed for an hour (or three). The decorations, music and snacks lasted all throughout the night. A quiet section in the back of the room housed artwork including paintings, photography and decorated t-shirts representing mental illnesses in various ways. Professor Jason Schiffman of the Psychology department spoke briefly about stress-relieving techniques and his personal experiences.

While the chapter at UMBC is relatively young, NAMI is a national organization that was founded in 1979. According to their website, they “[are] the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.”

Their outreach isn’t just limited to big events. During regular biweekly meetings, NAMI members prepare and present on mental health first aid, self-care, how to help a loved one, and other topics.

Tim Farrell, a sophomore media/communication studies major, assisted in the marketing of these events as the club’s Outreach Committee Chair.

“… I went through some of my own mental health struggles with anxiety, so that kind of gave me that extra motivation to really care about it … ,” said Farrell. “It’s an important issue that I want to talk about with other people, because it’s not being talked about.”

My Story, an event typically held in mid-March, is the most moving for people according to Farrell. During this event, those who have been affected by mental illnesses speak about their experiences.

At the end of the week, nearly 50 people gathered for the Out of Darkness 5K walk for suicide awareness and prevention. While NAMI was not directly involved in the planning, they encouraged all to attend the event on Saturday morning. Peer health educators such as senior biology and psychology major Sahar Elloumi took a leading role in planning this event.

The walk, sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, also represented a collaboration between University Health Service, the Counseling Center and UMBC Recreation & Physical Education.

AFSP has had a positive relationship with UMBC for several years. In fact, AFSP secured a grant for the Counseling Center which allowed for the creation of the online Interactive Screening Program, which evaluates mental health status and identifies risk factors. After taking anonymous and voluntary screening, students may be contacted by a university counselor for an optional follow-up. Students have the option to communicate with a counselor virtually or in person and are not required to go speak to someone or take any further action.

“We’re trying to get mental health awareness across campus,” said Elloumi. “Even if it’s just donations or just walking, we want people to know that they’re not alone; there are resources on campus.”