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National Day Without Stigma

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Next week is Mental Health Awareness Week, a time when we are encouraged to confront a topic that many of us try to avoid all year. The truth is, we may not all have a mental illness, but we all have mental health. But often, learning more and boldly starting a conversation eludes us. Let's change that this year.

One in four college students struggles with a mental health illness in a given year. One in four. Among adults, the prevalence is the same. While we often have negative images in our mind about what the issues are and mean, mental health disorders are a part of many of our lives and can become a relatively normal part of everyday life. Yet, society has painted the picture that this quarter of us is helpless, scary, and even dangerous, and promotes the myth that seeking help for your mental health makes you weak. These stereotypes are dangerous themselves and make up the stigma that prevents people from speaking up about their struggles and getting the help they need and deserve.

In fact, two-thirds of college students in need do not seek help, including those who are thinking about suicide. They worry about what will happen if they get help, some believe it will not work, and others don't think their situation is bad enough to warrant it.

For 10 years, college students in Active Minds chapters across the country have been rejecting that negative societal stance by speaking openly and honestly to their peers about the realities of mental health. Yes, they carry with them facts, statistics, and resources, but they are also equipped with something even more powerful: their voices.

Active Minds chapter members are the voice of mental health advocacy on college campuses. They call on their peers to know the signs when someone is struggling, engage each other in conversations about depictions of mental health disorders in the media, and encourage each other to seek help. They call on their institutions to make their campuses more accommodating and supportive of the mental health needs of all by amending policies, promoting mental health and wellness resources and training everyone to recognize the signs of a student in crisis. Many chapter members selflessly share glimpses into their own struggles with mental health, whether they were struggling themselves or were supporting a loved one through their struggle. They offer these personal messages of hope so that others might speak up, reach out, and get help.

This Oct. 9, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Week, Active Minds chapters across the country will gather on their campuses for National Day Without Stigma. They will bring counseling center staff members out to talk to students in the dining halls; they will chalk messages of support and encouragement on their sidewalks; they will coach people on the simple things they can do to break down the walls of silence and stigma and make sure friends are getting the help they need.

You have a role to play. This year individuals and organizations that are likewise committed to eliminating stigma are joining the effort. Anyone can visit www.ActiveMinds.org/NDWS, select our Community Action Kit and download tools and resources to change the conversation about mental health in your family, workplace and community. We would like you to join us in posting a message of support on Facebook and Twitter, handing out a card with simple ways to break down stigma in your office building, or by chalking a few messages of hope and support on your community's sidewalk. Information about how to make these simple gestures of support, and many others, are available in the Community Action Kit.

From starting the first student group at the University of Pennsylvania a decade ago to watching us register our 350th chapter this year, I am confident that our work is both necessary and effective, and I am continually inspired by the passion and creativity of the college students who make up this powerful advocacy network. Active Minds is a rapidly growing movement founded on the belief that silence hurts us all. This Oct. 9, join the Active Minds Movement for National Day Without Stigma and add your voice to the growing number who reject shame and silence and embrace hope and open conversation.

Join the conversation at www.activeminds.org/ndws.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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