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NAMI combats stigma during Mental Illness Awareness Week

In 1990, Congress made the first full week of October “Mental Illness Awareness Week” to highlight the work done by the National Alliance on Mental Illness to de-stigmatize mental health. This year, Mental Illness Awareness Week began on Oct. 7. Thanks to support from NAMI Metro Baltimore, the UMBC student branch of NAMI was able to put together an event each weekday as part of a week-long campaign called “I Will Listen.” 

“[I Will Listen is] a campaign to prove and always be open to listening to somebody, no matter what they may be going through,” said NAMI president and senior physics education major Phillip McGregor. 

This message manifested in many different ways throughout the week, starting with a pledging day on Monday, in which students were encouraged to pledge not to wear headphones and instead listen to their peers. Tuesday was a day of “Personal Stories of Recovery,” in which students watched a video presentation about mental illness. The next day had an open mic night where bystanders were invited to share their experiences with mental health. On Thursday, there was a seminar about stress management and stigmas that specifically affect the mental well-being of women of color. The week was scheduled to end with puppies and a compliments board from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the library courtyard, but the event was postponed until Friday Oct. 19 due to the campus closure on Oct. 12.

These events each had turnouts that were fairly consistent with those of last year’s: not very high. Students who did come to the events received plenty of information and personal testimonies about mental illnesses, as well as tips and suggestions for maintaining a healthy mental state; unfortunately, McGregor does not believe that the events were particularly impactful for those who did show up. However, he also feels that the low participation in the I Will Listen campaign does not indicate poor results for future events.

“We seem like we have a really dedicated group of general body members,” said McGregor. Because of this, he believes that there will be more student participation in future events. For example, NAMI’s “Winter Wonderland” formal in November and “My Story” event (in which students share their personal experiences with mental illness) in the spring have garnered strong support in the past. Additionally, events done in collaboration with other groups help to broaden NAMI’s exposure to the student body.

“People just see, ‘oh, NAMI, like, I don’t have a mental illness, that doesn’t apply to me,’ so they just don’t come,” explained McGregor. Bringing in outside organizations can entice other students and help them get involved in the conversation about mental health. This is part of the overall goal of NAMI: normalizing mental illness by bringing the issue to the student body. 

“If there’s a group within the student body that has an outreach to eradicate the stigma, it’s … more personal,” said McGregor of NAMI’s effect on the UMBC community. “Seeing that it’s not just people studying psychology that need to look at mental health … [shows that it’s] a very widespread thing and that it really impacts everyone.”