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Students work to take the stigma out of mental health conversations

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately one out of five U.S. adults will experience mental illness in a given year. USF students will have the opportunity to join Come Out of  the Dark’s event (COTD) to celebrate mental health awareness month and break down the barriers of the stigma that surrounds it.

According to their website, COTD is an organization devoted to beginning a better conversation about mental health. The organization is hosting a Mental Health Awareness Celebration today in MSC 3712 from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Will Laurie, the treasurer of COTD, is the coordinator for the event. Laurie said the event will celebrate the advances made in mental health awareness, as well as discussions about the social aspect of mental health.

“(COTD will discuss) Both the positives and negatives, such as the opening up about celebrities struggling and the normalization of mental health or suicide type jokes like, ‘Oh, I failed, I’m going to kill myself,’” Laurie said.

According to Laurie, it was difficult to decide whether the club should host the event in May due to a lack of students on campus, but Laurie said it was important to host the event in May since it’s mental health awareness month.

“We see it as a nice opportunity to invite some fellow Bulls to come and have some pizza, relax and contribute to discussions that we can all benefit from,” Laurie said.

Lora Bishop, the president of COTD, said the original purpose of this organization was to bring students together to inform and inspire them to take part in the movement to take the stigma out of depression. Bishop said the organization has grown to be all encompassing of all mental health disorders, not just depression.

COTD participates every year in the Center of Leadership and Civic Engagement’s (CLCE) Survivors of Suicide Night, as well as Psych Expos. Their annual event is the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention walk that is hosted at USF.

A nationwide survey conducted by the College Health Assessment said “college students at two and four year institutions found that nearly 30 percent of college students reported feeling ‘so depressed that it was difficult to function’ at some time in the past year.”

Bishop said this number could be higher, but due to the stigma still surrounding mental illness, it can be hard for people to seek help. Furthermore, Bishop said as a society, we are moving toward a more positive environment for those with mental illness but there is still a lot of work to be done.

“Personally, I feel our campus is a very accepting place for those with mental health issues,” Bishop said. “There are a lot of events, meetings, organizations and resources available to those with mental health issues and those who want to be an ally.”

Bishop said she believes that the organization’s discussion-based events will give people a chance to open up to others about what they may be going through or talk about how they can become a better ally to those with mental illnesses.

As president, Bishop said she would like to make a difference in the lives of students. She feels that by impacting those through the organization first and foremost, it ignites a fire to reach others.

“For example, our discussion on the word “triggered” may have only been heard by less than ten people — but the lasting power of the lessons learned during that discussion may have impacted others in the future, when our members are able to educate their friends, family and peers about the topic,” Bishop said. “In the end, we know that by changing the atmosphere on campus through the students, we are helping to destigmatize mental illness nationally.”

Bishop said the mentality that most college students are in can be detrimental, which is why she believes self-care is crucial for staying mentally healthy.

“The lasting power of the lessons learned during these (mental health) discussions may impact others in the future — when our members are able to educate their friends, family and peers about a topic,” Bishop said. “In the end, we know that by changing the atmosphere on campus through the students, we are helping to destigmatize mental illness nationally.”