The Associated Students Disability Outreach Center will be hosting a variety of events throughout May as part of Mental Health Awareness Month. The AS Review spoke with Western junior Diana Ash, the AS Disability Outreach Center work-study student, about Mental Health Awareness Month and the events to come.
AS Review: There is a long lineup of events. Any in particular you are excited about or are looking forward to?
Diana Ash: I am really excited for three events. The events are experimental for us in the DOC, The first is the NAMI Presentation and In Our Own Voice. The reason that this is so exciting is that we are hoping to reach more college students to help them understand that there is an organization that is close to campus, and that students and their community can come together to reduce stigma of mental illness. The next event is on May 17: Walking in the Shoes of People Living with Mental Illness workshop. This is a type of workshop that brings individuals living with a mental illness in the community and students on campus to be able to come and connect with each other. I am hoping for a large group to come to this event to have an experience of a lifetime. The students might get ideas, or have feelings to come to the surface and find something that they have never experienced before. The last event I am excited for is the Candle Light Vigil and Testimony meeting, which is a time to reflect on the month’s events and a time where we can find hope, support, encouragement and knowledge that we are not alone. Also, hopefully we can honor those we have lost in the last five years to suicide and remember them and that it is OK to express what has happened nevertheless; to realize that if we as students are experiencing signs of suicide or depression to be aware and to know when to get help or to let others know what to look out for of a friend or family that may be experiencing these signs.
Review: What message do you hope to bring to students with these events? Any goals or expectations?
Ash: The message that I hope to bring to students with these events that it is OK to talk about mental illness. I know that everyone has fears of family or friends finding out about what they are experiencing or the fear of being abandoned due to a character flaw that people may feel it is their fault and cause the mental illness. I want to reduce those fears, and hopefully putting it out there that having a mental illness is not all bad, it could save your life. Don’t get me wrong, at times mental illness does cause a lot of disruption a person’s life. Yet, people can live a happy life with living with a mental illness. My no. 1 goal is to reduce stigma that surrounds mental illness, and to have awareness of health issues, because when an individual knows what is going on with them, it might be the difference in having a mental health crisis being diagnosed with a lifelong disorder.
Review: With the Kick Off on May 1, is that the largest event or simply just the beginning of a series of events?
Ash: I am hoping it will be the biggest event; stigma busting is the first step to help reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. By people knowing facts from myths, signs to watch out for especially in college students. And producing a curiousness of mental illness and what it is really all about. I believe that there is no person that doesn’t know about mental illness, and by not being afraid of it that people are willing to talk about it openly, and hopefully keep our campus safe for others, and being there for each other.
Review: Mental health is an extremely important issue, will you be working with any of the counseling services on campus as well?
Ash: Yes, we will be working with Western’s Counseling Center for the event on May 14. They would be presenting preventing mental health crisis, things we as students can do, signs of suicide and to know when it is the right time to get help, and hopefully learning relaxation techniques that can help through stressful situations. I am much honored that they will be working with us and helping us get the information out there for all students.
Review: Why should people come to these events?
Ash: I believe people should come to these events to gain knowledge, to use that knowledge, be prepared for upcoming events in their life that might trigger a mental health break. They might learn skills to help reduce stress, which in theory could prevent a mental health crisis, to those who want to go into the mental health system: for those to come experience firsthand of similar cases that they might see in their career.
Most importantly is to create encouragement, support, and hope to those around us and to know that we are not alone, that we are facing these issues together.