Students Share Personal Experiences With Mental Illness

As students who attended the Pomona Student Union (PSU) panel “Diagnosis: Defining Mental Illness” on Oct. 29 learned, many mental illnesses begin to form when people are in their late teens or early twenties. Students at the Claremont Colleges, therefore, are part of a group that has a high risk of developing a mental illness.

Given the vulnerable age of most 5C students, some students are trying to increase the level of dialogue about mental illness in Claremont, especially considering the upcoming release of the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel on Mental Disorders (DSM-V) and what some see as a lack of conversation at the 5Cs regarding mental health.

In the past few months, three 5C panels have focused on continuing this discussion. During PSU’s “Diagnosis” panel, three experts attempted to define mental illness, discussed different methods of treatment and spoke about the usefulness of government agencies and the fairness of large drug companies’ influence on mental health legislation.

The student-run organizations Active Minds and Let’s DO Something both hosted panels during which student panelists spoke of their experiences with mental health, either through their own diagnoses or through the diagnoses of their loved ones, and expressed their hopes of erasing some of the stigmas surrrounding mental health at the 5Cs. Active Minds’ “Celebrating Life” panel specifically focused on mental health in the queer community.

Katie Feller PO ’13, a co-founder and co-president of Let’s DO Something, said that she decided to create such a club because of the stigma attached to mental illness at the 5Cs. She said that while issues such as gender, race and class already had forums for discussion at the 5Cs, mental health had none.

“Mental illness was just so stigmatized that there was just no dialogue on campus about it at all,” Feller said. “All there was was, ‘Oh you need help? Go to Monsour [Counseling and Psychological Services].’”

Let’s DO Something, which was founded in the fall of 2011 by Feller, Claire Laubacher PO ’13, Caitlin Plefka PO ’13 and Natasha Haradhvala PO ’13, is a club affiliated with the larger organizations Let’s Erase The Stigma (LETS) and Do Something.

The club tries to increase awareness of mental illness on the 5Cs in part by hosting panels, which also serve to show people affected by mental illness themselves that they are not alone at the 5Cs. Let’s DO Something hosts support groups each week and publishes newsletters to strengthen their connection with students seeking help.

Feller, who has bipolar disorder and spoke of her history with the illness at the club’s first panel last fall, said that since founding the club, she has grown immensely as a person and is able to speak more openly about her disorder.

“I was diagnosed when I was 12 or 13 and I didn’t tell anyone until my sophomore year of college.” Feller said. “When we started this group all of a sudden it was like all of these people who could relate to me and who weren’t squeamish or uncomfortable when I talked about what I was feeling.”

Feller said she believed that other club members have experienced similar personal growth. With about 60 people in the audience at the most recent panel, the club seemed to be having success getting its message out.

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