By Jennifer Szwed
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) deems the first week of each October Mental Illness Awareness Week, during which the organization combats negative assumptions associated with mental illness and sets the foundation for a more inclusive future.
UCI participated in this nationwide event by holding a workshop on mental illness and providing assistance to NAMI’s 5k Run.
UCI’s Office of Civic and Community Engagement held the Stand up to Stigma workshop last Thursday in an attempt to normalize the topic of mental illness.
“The workshop’s goal was to help people learn more about mental health, get people to open up, and get them to stop being harmful about it,” said Sabrina Zuluaga, one of the student organizers.
During the workshop, attendees were made more aware of their biases against those with mental illnesses and were encouraged to be more mindful of how they use terms that indicate mental illness.
For instance, the workshop highlighted phrases like “post-concert depression” which liken one’s brief sadness to the severe, persistent sadness of those who are genuinely depressed. This careless word choice invalidates the experiences of those who are mentally ill by comparing them to something trivial.
During the workshop, peers shared their struggles with mental illness, demonstrating its prevalence on campus.
Upon telling their stories, they admitted that they were afraid to seek help for a multitude of reasons. However, they all realized that the longer they postponed looking for guidance, the harder it became to cope with their mental illness. Based on these experiences, they encouraged others to learn from their mistakes and seek help as soon as they suspect themselves or a loved one of suffering from a mental illness.
The workshop also featured UCI alumna and motivational speaker Emily Wu Truong, whose battle with depression inspired her to speak out about mental health and advocate self-love.
After sharing her story, she imparted some words of encouragement to the crowd: “Your weaknesses are a stepping stone to make you the greatest you can become.”
UCI’s involvement in Mental Illness Awareness Week then continued on Saturday when a number of UCI students volunteered at NAMI’s 5k Run to raise awareness for mental illness.
After the run, participants were invited to explore the various booths set up to educate people about mental illness.
Students seeking additional mental health support or resources are encouraged to visit the UCI Counseling Center, located in Student Services 1, next door to the Career Center.