Mental Health on Campus: Making a Difference One Person at a Time

Can one person make a difference? I think so. We all have more power than we know, if we speak up and assert ourselves. When several people work together, power is multiplied.

That's why I am thrilled by the increasing number of young adults who today are speaking out for mental health awareness and sharing personal stories. Many are organizing NAMI on Campus chapters around the country. Their boldness and courage is inspiring.

Not long ago, for example, NAMI received a call from a reporter from the Omaha World Herald, Nebraska's largest newspaper. A student at the University of Nebraska had contacted her to ask that she write a story about the NAMI campus chapter's activities. The reporter called the NAMI national office to find out more about the NAMI on Campus program.

I was impressed by the students' initiative in calling a major newspaper. So was the reporter. Most people feel shy or awkward--or even intimidated--about calling reporters. In this case, the reporter wrote the story, which the Associated Press circulated nationally, including a photo of the students in action.

"I have dealt with depression and anxiety," said Jennifer Alquicira," the University of Nebraska chapter's vice-president. "I work on it on my own, and with my family. "I want to tell people that have dealt with this that you have support here."

NAMI chapters at Duke University, Florida State University (FSU), and the University of Virginia (UVa) also have been in the news recently through college media.

UVa chapter leaders emphasize that mental health exists on a spectrum and students need to feel comfortable reaching out for help no matter how big or small their problems.

"We don't believe you have to have an illness to struggle or to deal with things like anxiety and stress," said UVa chapter vice-president Olivia Lacny. "We really want to broaden our horizon in who we reach."

NAMI FSU president Paige Devilbiss praised the mutual support that NAMI chapters foster among students." I never thought I'd be so passionate about a group, she said. "It's kind of like a close-knit family that's there for each other."

NAMI Duke organizer Khalouk Shahbander, is also passionate about building a campus-wide support system. "This is the beginning of something special and extraordinary for the campus," he said.

One person can make a difference simply by reaching out to others. NAMI's current public service announcements (PSAs) on television highlight what we call "The NAMI Effect." Just like a pebble dropped into a body of water can create a ripple that can spread outward, building a wave that can reshape land, individual actions can change communities--building awareness and acceptance to support recovery.

Earlier this year, NAMI launched its "StigmaFree" campaign which is now being expanded to college campuses. The campaign similarly reflects NAMI's grassroots strength, in which we move the country forward one person at a time.

Students and others in college communities will be asked to the "Stigmafree Pledge." It consists of three simple parts:

• Learn about mental health--educate yourself and others
• See the person not the illness--strive to listen, understand, tell your stories
• Take action--spread the word, raise awareness, make a difference.

NAMI on Campus leaders at Duke, FSU, Nebraska and UVa--as well as other colleges and universities are already making a difference. We are proud to have them as part of the NAMI movement--spreading compassion, kindness and hope.