January 16, 2017

"See Through Stigma" Week Promotes Open Discussion About Mental Health and Disability

Last week was UChicago’s second annual See Through Stigma (STS) Awareness Week, which hosted daily events to promote open discussion about mental health and dis/ability. 
The week of programming, which began on Monday and ended on Friday, was the result of a collaboration between the RSO Axis UChicago and the student organization Active Minds. Axis UChicago focuses on the perception of dis/ability. Through workshops, community service, and dialogues with guest speakers, they hope to create a more inclusive and conscientious campus regarding dis/ability. Active Minds is a non-profit organization with university chapters nationwide. The organization aims to reduce the stigmas surrounding mental illness through open discussion and promotional activities like STS. 
Laurel Meng, a third-year in the College and the current president of the Active Minds UChicago Chapter, strongly supported the founding of STS. This is the second year that STS has been hosted by Axis UChicago and Active Minds.  
“There are physical dis/ability issues, and there are mental health issues. All of those things are tied to stigma, are tied to invisibility, feeling not seen or not heard, and we want to make those voices as a whole heard,” Meng said. 
The various events were focused on allowing those with dis/abilities to be heard. On Monday, comparative human development professor Anna Mueller gave a talk on stigma. A trigger warning info session was held on Tuesday, directed by senior lecturer Erika Price. 
STS organized a Health and Wellness Resource Fair on Wednesday in Reynolds Club to provide information to students. On Thursday night in Stuart Hall there was a screening of Touched with Fire, a feature film about bipolar disorder directed by Paul Dalio.  
STS volunteers also conducted a Polaroid Project throughout the entire week. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Reynolds, students were able to have their pictures taken. They would then write their mood on the polaroid, and have the picture hung up on a whiteboard for the remainder of the week. The pictures were taken down Friday at the Arts Coffeehouse, STS’s closing event. 
At the coffeehouse in Hutch Commons, there were multiple attractions throughout the event. On stage, various students performed spoken prose or musical pieces, ranging from solo artists to five-person bands. In addition, there was an art deco of student paintings and drawings, available for viewing whilst other students manned tables to represent a variety of organizations—including Lean On Me, a student organization that orchestrates an anonymous peer-support network on campus.    
Kelly Elizabeth-Collins, a first-year in the College, performed a spoken-word piece at the Coffeehouse. Collins’ mother is bipolar, an aspect of her life that inspired her performance. 
“People really don’t understand what these illnesses are like for the people that have them and the people that love those people,” Collins said. “It creates a culture in which it’s very difficult to talk about it and difficult to share those experiences”. 
Eli Winter, another first-year who performed two guitar pieces, dealt with anxiety and depression throughout high school, but was able to channel it through playing music and having a support system of friends. 
Winter expressed hope that the event would inspire even those who do not suffer from mental illness to acknowledge those who do. “The hope I would have is that regardless of what personal experience they may have with it they can still be there. In that they won’t be afraid or that they’ll be less afraid to help people, friends of theirs, acquaintances, enemies, whoever….to have a sort of support system is very important,” Winter said.  
The presidents of both Axis UChicago and Active Minds expressed eagerness for next year’s STS Awareness Week. 

“We want people to be talking about it, we want people to be passionate about it and we want people to not feel alone. That if they’re struggling, there are people who care about that. We want this to be a very positive thing for people to look to,” Meng said. 

Editor’s note: The Maroon has chosen to adopt Axis’s terminology for the purposes of this article.  

Correction on Jan. 26, 2017, 7:04 p.m. CST:

This article originally misstated the number of pieces played by first-year Eli Winter.