Each year the Columbia chapter of Active Minds sponsors a Mental Health Awareness Week to educate students about various campus mental health resources, and to encourage students to learn about suicide prevention practices. Active Minds facilitates discussions on the campus climate surrounding mental health and strives to engender positive communal growth. We aim to show those who suffer that they are not alone, and that in choosing to step forward they will be received warmly, without the stigma that is normally associated with mental illness.
Although we may not all suffer from a mental health disorder, everyone's general mental health requires attention and care. Critical discussions about mental health should bridge our campus community, rather than divide us and force us into solitude, silencing those who suffer from mental illness. Although I have not been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, I am nonetheless affected by what has transpired around me.
In recent years I witnessed the suffering of a family member who nearly took her life. This experience informed my participation in Active Minds, which gave me a means to cope. As a member of the Columbia community for nearly four years, I have had the displeasure of hearing about a number of on-campus suicides. I have seen friends struggle to balance the rigorous demands of a college education at Columbia or Barnard. I have heard about both negative and positive experiences with on-campus clinical services, and have noticed people who are unable to seek help, despite their urgent need for it. I have made myself an available resource for friends to talk about problems related to mental health, and have sought out the same from them. The creation of an Active Minds chapter at Columbia has been part of a necessary response to the immense suffering that has transpired over time on this campus.
Active Minds is not relevant to Columbia just because a chapter exists here. Active Minds is relevant because there are still students suffering; it's relevant because there have been suicides on our campus. The brother of the founder of Active Minds, Inc. was a Columbia College student who suffered from mental health disorders in silence. He committed suicide during his senior year. He was not the first, nor will he be the last.
Even as the remainder of my time on campus dwindles down to weeks, I still hold on to the visions I have for the future of campus discourse on mental health. I envision a community that works tirelessly to create a campus that encourages students to confront their mental health issues. I envision a campus that successfully provides for each student's mental health needs. I envision every member of this community as being able to actively and successfully participate in college without feeling as though their mental health disorder inhibits them in any way.
Mental Health Awareness Week is not the ultimate solution—it is only the beginning of a critical conversation. The calendar officially marks this week as a fragment of time that is designated to promoting dialogue about mental health. Mental Health Awareness should not be limited to a brief week filled with events on campus. The awareness should be ingrained as a regular part of our daily discourse.
The author is a senior in the joint program between the School of General Studies and the Jewish Theological Seminary, studying human rights and Jewish ethics. She is president of Active Minds at Columbia University.
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