Impact hosts events to spread awareness about mental illness

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Marian Trattner, suicide prevention coordinator at the Counseling and Mental Health Center, spoke to students about recognizing suicidal red flags and using the mental health resources on campus at the SAC monday evening.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

Seemingly harmless jokes about mental illnesses, such as depression and bipolar disorder, can actually have devastating effects on those who suffer from these conditions, students learned at an awareness event Monday.

Impact, a student service organization dedicated to a variety of causes, presented Tie a String: Mental Health Stigma and Awareness Day. Students in Impact spread awareness about mental illness stigmas by holding several events throughout the day. During the afternoon, members passed out knots of string tied to information sheets about mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. An evening presentation from the Counseling and Mental Health Center’s “Be That One” Suicide Prevention Program taught students how to detect suicide warning signs in their peers and was followed by a performance by musical act Dog Gone Dead, featuring Indian War God Nation.

Psychology junior and Impact member Kelsey Stewart organized Tie a String. Stewart said the outward stigma surrounding people with mental illnesses makes life much more difficult for those who suffer and can push them toward harming themselves.

“There’s a large public negative connotation toward people who deal with mental illnesses, and that stigma is harmful to people who suffer from those illnesses because they internalize that stigma,” Stewart said. “They end up believing that they are weak and incompetent and won’t really get better.”

Stewart said the first step in changing the negative effects of stigma is to simply educate others about the true harm it causes.

“My goal for this event is just to have people help understand that this is a problem,” Stewart said. “A lot of people don’t know that stigma really does cause harm to people who are suffering from mental illnesses. I really just want to raise awareness.”

Honorary pre-medical organization Alpha Epsilon Delta helped Impact members pass out information during the afternoon. Biology freshman and Alpha Epsilon Delta member Valeria Labastida said simply realizing the stigma surrounding mental illnesses can help people choose their words and actions more sensitively.

“We’ve all definitely encountered someone in our lives who has dealt with a mental illness,” Labastida said. “People joke about them, but they need to know to be more conscious of what they’re really saying.”

Marian Trattner, Suicide Prevention Counselor in the Counseling and Mental Health Center, presented the “Be That One” Suicide Prevention Program, which focuses on teaching students to target suicide risk factors and warning signs in their peers. These warning signs include nonverbal cues such as drastic changes in eating or sleeping habits, as well as direct verbal cues such as expressing apathy for favorite activities.

Trattner said it is important for students to reach out to their peers first without relying on mental health services to come to the rescue.

“I’m hoping students will take away information that can help them help their friends in need,” Trattner said. “We know that from research that students are more likely to talk to their friends to get support before they come into our office. We want to make sure our students have the knowledge to help their friends out.”

Printed on Tuesday, April 24, 2012 as: Group promotes awareness regarding mental illnesses