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Mental Health Awareness Week aims to stop stigma around mental illness

November 15, 2018
The Rock at the kickoff event for ASMSU's Mental Health Awareness Week on Nov. 12, 2018.
The Rock at the kickoff event for ASMSU's Mental Health Awareness Week on Nov. 12, 2018. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

Nov. 12 marked the official start of Mental Health Awareness Week at MSU. Mental Health Awareness Week is a program run by the Associated Students of Michigan State University, or ASMSU, and consists of events to promote awareness about mental health and to help erase the stigma surrounding mental illness. 

The week kicked off at amid a thick flurry of snow with an event at the MSU Rock. Several members of ASMSU handed out free gloves, buttons and shirts and answered questions about Mental Health Awareness Week. 

Sparty also made an appearance at the kickoff event.

Jessica Mijal, assistant director of marketing for ASMSU, said the events throughout Mental Health Awareness Week are a great way to de-stress. She said all events are free to MSU students. 

“I think mental health is something that college students — they get so stressed they sometimes don’t think about themselves,” Mijal said. “I think it’s important to have this event, and have this week, for people to kind of take a second and have some time for themselves and make sure they’re doing okay.” 

Some of Mental Health Awareness Week’s events include yoga, a craft night, a “Sweat out the Stigma” 5K run and nature walks and lectures, the ASMSU Mental Health Awareness  event page said.

“This is a time where as a campus we come together to fight to release the stigma against mental health,” the event page said.

According to ASMSU’s website, “The goal of this week is to release the stigma around mental health, educate students on resources available to them, and continue to advocate for increased mental health resources on campus. This issue impacts many students and members of the MSU and East Lansing community, and we hope that this week can shed light and increase awareness of mental health.”

One of the largest events in the program, “Exploring Mental Health: Breaking Stigmas through Self-Authenticity” with Demetrius Harmon, drew a large crowd of viewers.

A line of people wrapped through Erickson Hall’s lobby waiting to enter the Kiva to see Harmon, a Michigan native and internet personality, give a lecture on mental health. 

Harmon discussed the stigma surrounding mental health and how it affects self-image, relationships and general life experiences. 

The presentation touched on Harmon’s ongoing battle with substance abuse, family problems and his struggles with fitting in.

He detailed a year-long period of his life in which he felt invisible and was willing to do anything for his friends and family to see how badly he was struggling. 

During the presentation, Harmon played three of his favorite songs that helped him get through challenging times, including Paramore’s “Rose Colored Boy,” J. Cole’s “Friends” and Kid Cudi’s “Soundtrack 2 My Life.” 

Through tears, he discussed how these songs and the help of his friends provided him comfort throughout his struggles. He explained how grateful he was to have them in his life. 

After the lecture portion was over, a panel composed of four student leaders and Harmon answered questions related to mental health. 

The panel discussed their paths to self discovery and insecurities. Topics such as labels and the idea of empowerment versus constriction were discussed. 

Each individual discussed their struggles with validation and their reliance on others to make them feel accepted, as well as how they work to focus on validation within themselves without needing to be validated by others around them. 

The panel offered insight on different coping mechanisms, including breathing exercises, meditation, writing and music.

The panel reminded the crowd that validating their friends’ experiences and letting them know that they are heard is important, but sometimes it’s best to acknowledge they can’t help with every situation.

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