Panel focuses on stigma surrounding mental illness

On Tuesday, March 7, Loras hosted a Mental Health Panel in the Mary Alexis Room of the Alumni Campus Center. The panel featured speakers from Loras, Hillcrest Family Services, Mazzuchelli Middle School and the National Alliance on Mental Illness Dubuque.

Senior Aleah Erenberger, one of the facilitators of the event, explained that the panel was a final method of research for her honors group, Strength Over Stigma, which has been working on this project for about three years.

She said the group has been doing research and implementation of a solution for mental health awareness for young adolescents. She explained a big part of their project was establishing an exploratory mental health course in an eighth grade class, which included talking about mental health, gauging what they knew, and teaching kids. At the end of the class, the students held mental health awareness week for the school.

“We teach them and they teach others,” she said, talking fondly of the experience.

The questioning was led mostly by the Strength Over Stigma group, but many attendees chimed in with their own inquires. Many questions were focused on the existence of negative stigma surrounding mental health, ways to overcome it and ways to support those with mental illness. Although the event coordinators focused a majority of their questions around adolescent mental health and awareness, the panel members connected the questions with the broader range of mental health in college students and adults. Lots of questions posed to the panel came back to mental health awareness in adolescents, such as what can be done to overcome the stigma, how to promote awareness in young people and encouraging openness dialogue about mental health.

“I’m here to get a better understanding of how I can help and how I can better educate people about mental health,” said junior Caroline Foglton after attending the event.

An important topic covered by the panel was identifying resources for people struggling with mental illness as well as possible actions and recommendations for how to support a child, family member or friend struggling with mental illness. For those with a mental illness, finding a therapist or counselor who is a good fit is a way to start or expand a network of support. There are help lines and hotlines to call for support if someone does not feel comfortable talking to a friend or loved one. For those who are looking for ways to offer support, the first step is to be informed, but also recognize that not every diagnosis is accompanied by the same set of symptoms. The mental health panelists agreed that one of the best things to do is to just listen if someone is unsure how to help a loved one. It is important that people struggling with mental illnesses have a network of support and feel safe enough to open up to others about feelings.

Panel member Jim Norman, a certified peer support group specialist and a representative of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), encourages those who wish to know more about support of mental illness to visit www.namidubuque.org. The website states, “NAMI Dubuque is a support and advocacy organization for persons with mental illness and their families and loved ones. Together, we are united to build a future of hope and recovery for all people whose lives have been touched by mental illness.”

Strength Over Stigma’s mental health panel realized its goal to educate, inform and converse about mental health awareness, especially in adolescents.

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