Awareness of mental illnesses continues to grow on college campuses and in surrounding communities as organizations encourage those impacted to speak out about their experiences.
The National Alliance of Mental Illness of Edmond and North-OKC (NAMI) hosted an event Oct. 3 called Never Give Up Hope. According to NewsOK, the event schedule featured performances using broken instruments, which symbolized repurposed, previously broken lives. In addition, there were food trucks, a silent auction and first-hand stories from those who have dealt with mental illnesses.
President of NAMI Edmond North-OKC Eileen Morefield said the purpose of the event was to raise awareness of severe mental illness in the community as a whole. She said the organization’s outreach vision includes college campuses.
Oklahoma Christian University’s campus is home to two mental health programs called U!Shine and Healthy Brain Healthy Mind, which aim to promote awareness, healing and care for individuals struggling with mental illnesses. Morefield said every student should recognize the need for personal and relational mental health awareness, as it is an issue which impacts a vast number of individuals.
“If students were aware of the fact that serious mental illness strikes essentially their age group, that’s where the greatest amount of serious mental illness starts is anywhere from 14 to about 24, then those students, if they care about their general health, including their brain health and mental health, they would make every effort to get themselves educated,” Morefield said. “Even if they’re lucky enough that it doesn’t strike them, it is very very likely that they will know someone that it will strike.”
Morefield said simply understanding another person’s health struggles can help make a difficult situation significantly easier to manage. She said it is important to offer support and encouragement during their time of need.
“If [a serious mental illness] happens, they are equipped with the education, the compassion, the understanding to be with that person and not to desert that person,” Morefield said. “One of the worst things that happens to people that are stricken with severe mental illnesses is that they lose a lot of support, because people don’t understand what’s happening to them — they don’t even understand what’s happening to them.”
Oklahoma Christian Professor of Psychology and Family Studies Tina Winn said she is encouraged by the community’s effort to address mental health issues in the area. She said it is an opportunity to bring people together who share similar experiences.
“I think these kind of events have a really overall positive effect on people who may feel pretty isolated,” Winn said. “Often times, people with mental health issues will isolate themselves, because they’re afraid of what people will think, so it can help with that.”
According to Winn, it is just as important for mentally healthy individuals to prepare for potential struggles as it is for mentally unhealthy individuals to seek treatment for their illness.
“When we see examples of people who maybe struggle with a mental health issue, but they are successful in some area or they’ve overcome some issue, then for those who are struggling or who have family members struggling, they see that there is a path out,” Winn said.
Winn said she is involved in Healthy Brain Healthy Mind and thinks the program shares a common goal with NAMI, which is to provide hope to those who are hurting. She said it is important to empower others and help them realize their potential.
“I think awareness is always kind of the first step in addressing any kind of social problem, so that people can publically acknowledge either their own struggle or a family member’s struggle,” Winn said. “They can hear other people, and that gives kind of a sense of universality which is so helpful, ‘I’m not alone, I’m not the only person that has experienced this, other people are there.’ Also, it can really build hope.”
Healthy Brain Healthy Mind Group Facilitator Seth Jones said he was glad to see the local community hosting this kind of event, as individuals who are struggling with mental illness are often overlooked. He said the performances at the event and the illustrations were applicable to current mental health issues.
“A lot of people go unnoticed or maybe tossed aside because maybe their personality or something that they’re going through that’s behind the scenes, so I think it’s very relevant and very good to raise awareness for those people struggling with mental illness,” Jones said.
Jones said individuals should utilize these organizations, which help individuals overcome struggles and thrive in their everyday lives. According to Jones, it is important to empower people who otherwise might be unable to recognize their strengths and instead focus on their own weaknesses.
“I think it is super good to use these programs,” Jones said. “I think it brings a lot of awareness for skills to use to help people going through this, but I think once you have those skills, also use it on an individual basis and be able to use it in daily interactions. I think the daily interactions are going to make a global impact, but organizations help facilitate that.”