Mental illnesses are often a taboo topic due to the various stereotypes and stigmas attached to them, such as the negative perceptions of mentally ill people as unstable and violent. These stigmas lead to people with mental illnesses being abused, silenced and disrespected. On Oct. 8, the 5C Mental Health Alliance hosted an event called Students Speak that aimed at dismantling these stigmas surrounding mental illnesses. At this event, a panel of students discussed their experiences with mental illnesses and then interacted with the audience in a free-form discussion.
The guest speakers shared very personal and in-depth accounts of living with mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and Tourette syndrome. A few panelists were able to share their roads to recovery and wellness, as well as accepting their state of mental health and getting the help they needed. Others, however, did not have such happy endings. They discussed their current struggles with mental illness, including their experiences at mental hospitals, attempts to find working medications, and therapy sessions at the Monsour Center.
“I became involved with the Mental Health Alliance last year, and I became very involved with the events there,” Kyra Stone PO ’16, one of the coordinators of the event, said. “I have lots of friends who have mental illness and family members. It’s very pervasive at the Claremont Colleges, although it’s not really talked about; a lot of the time, it flies under the radar. I wanted to put on an event that could bring the issue to people’s attention so that people can become more educated about people’s personal experiences with mental health.”
Nikki Bansal PZ ’19 noted the importance of understanding mental illnesses.
“I think a lot of people are so hidden about [mental illness] because people still don’t understand it and it’s not understood on the same level the physical illnesses are understood on, and we tend to fear or reject things we don’t understand, so there’s a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness,” Bansal said.
Many students such as Elizabeth Murphy SC ’19 felt the event was a success in raising awareness and support.
“I really liked it, and I definitely think it’s a step in the right direction, as far as the Claremont Colleges are dealing with mental health and figuring out what the students’ perspective is on that, because that should be prioritized above any other kind of quotas—to see what the students are actually saying because it was a platform for students by students,” she said. “I would definitely attend an event like it again.”
While the reviews of the event were positive overall, there were criticisms raised over the lack of diversity within the panel.
“I think that the idea of the event was really helpful,” Bansal said. “I liked it; I like seeing other people’s experiences, so, yes, I would attend something like this again. I do think the panel was lacking in diversity, though. I don’t think there was a single Scripps student, I don’t think there was a single Mudd student, and there was only one person of color.”
The panel discussions also raised concerns about the competence of the Monsour Center and how the Claremont consortium supports its students with mental health issues. According to one of the guest speakers, the Monsour Center only provides a limited number of therapy sessions, after which students are referred to local services and practitioners near the Claremont Village. The panelist stated that the off-campus suggestions were not an option for her since she was from a low-income background and simply could not afford it. Some audience members voiced criticisms of the Monsour Center not being capable of handling serious problems that students face, only being equipped for simpler situations.
“It’s a consortium of seven colleges, so they should definitely have the resources to offer unlimited therapy sessions,” Bansal said. “With Monsour, I’ve only been to one session and it was fine, but if I need more therapy in the future I know I can’t rely on this place to provide that, which kind of sucks considering how much money we pay.”
The Students Speak panel overall was a safe space for students to describe their personal experiences with mental illness, wellness, campus resources and the journey towards recovery. Their in-depth reflections shed a new light on the reality of mental health and illness, shredding the dehumanizing stigmas associated with the subject.
“I thought the event was pretty successful and we had a pretty good turnout,” Stone said. “Anything that can get students to talk about mental health in a safe space, anything like that I feel is very important to destigmatizing mental illnesses and mental disorders. We do have more panel events coming up this semester. We plan on having a similar style event, but with professors talking about their experiences with therapy and mental illness.”