By Elise Schoening
Roughly one in four adults in America suffers from a diagnosable mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Despite such a high rate, mental health is rarely openly discussed. Instead, it is oftentimes shrouded in a cloud of shame and stigma. Far too many people feel the need to hide their mental illness and as such, do not seek the help they need.
This month, the College’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) peer educators took a stand against the stigma surrounding mental health. The student organization hosted a number of events throughout October aimed at raising awareness for a wide range of mental health issues. The final event of CAPS’ Mental Health Awareness Month took place on Wednesday, Oct. 28, when students were invited to share their mental health struggles with their peers in the “Stigmonologues.”
“The goal of this event is to show that mental health is an important issue and to combat the stigma,” said Karen Chan, the chair for the Mental Health Awareness Month organized by the CAPS Peer Educators.
Six brave student-speakers took the stage in the Cromwell Main Lounge late Wednesday night, and with nothing but a podium between them and the crowd, bared their deepest secrets and struggles. Each story was different, but they all shared similar experiences of initial shame and fear, followed by reaching out to family and friends for support before embarking on the path to recovery
The significance of the event was evident in the overwhelming turnout it garnered. The Cromwell Lounge was filled to capacity with students who came to show support for their peers. Every seat in the room was taken, and yet, people continued to file in, choosing to sit on the floor or even stand for the next two and half hours.
Despite the large crowd, the event maintained an intimate and respectful atmosphere. Each speaker had the crowd’s complete attention as they courageously opened up about their struggles. Topics discussed included depression, social anxiety, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and various eating disorders.
Each speaker shared a personalized story, but there was a common theme of empowerment that rang through the microphone as each one took the stage. They all exuded self-confidence on the stage and spoke about how they have grown both stronger and kinder because of their experiences.
“I am not ashamed to talk about it because there is nothing to be ashamed about,” junior psychology major Jessica Roman said about her struggles with depression. “I’ve decided I don’t suffer from depression. I live with it. I’m not a victim. I’m a survivor.”
Depression was a common theme among the student-speakers. Senior psychology major Giannella Todaro has dealt with her fair share of mental illnesses since her early teenage years. In addition to depression, Todaro has also struggled with OCD, eating disorders and trichotillomania
Todaro expressed gratitude and hope about her struggles. She explained that her struggles with mental health and the help that she has received have made her the person she is today. Todaro credits her trichotillomania with her passion for makeup and says that her OCD has inspired her to study psychology with the hopes of one day becoming a clinical psychologist who can help others struggling with mental illness
“My journey with mental illness is far from over,” Todaro said. “Every day is a struggle to be OK with what I see in the mirror. And even though my struggle with mental illness has been tough, I wouldn’t be who I am today without these life changing events. Even though every day is a battle, I am a stronger person because of it.”
While most of the speakers focused on their own struggles, junior psychology major Colleen Magley opened up about her sister’s battle against severe social anxiety and major depressive disorder, as well as the effect these illnesses have had on her family.
Magley offered a unique perspective of mental health that can only be understood by someone who has stood by and watched a loved one fall apart. In a poem addressed to her sister, Magley captured the overwhelming feeling of helplessness that the family and friends of someone struggling with mental illness come to know too well.
“When someone close to you struggles with a mental illness, for a while they may become someone very different from the person you know,” Magley said. “You need to remember the good memories and that person you love is still there... they need you now more than ever.”
Magley urged audience members to never give up on a loved one battling depression. She and her family have stuck by her sister through these dark times, and while her sister still struggles with depression today, Magley was proud to report that she is no longer letting this illness control her life or confine her to her bed. Instead, she has hopes to attend photography school and travel the world.
At the end of the event, all the speakers were brought back on stage and thanked for their bravery and words of wisdom. They were all presented with flower bouquets and a resounding applause from the audience.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” said junior biomedical engineering major Megan Merbach, who attended the event for the first time on Wednesday. “But it’s definitely going to make me less quick to judge people.”
The “Stigmonologues” concluded the College’s Mental Health Awareness Month, but the fight to end the stigma surrounding mental health is far from over. Additional resources and mental health services can be found through the CAPS program, which is located in room 107 of Eickhoff Hall, and at the TCNJ Clinic in Forcina Hall. They are open every weekday and offer counseling services for students at the College.
“Mental illness is a fault in chemistry, not in character,” Todaro said. She encouraged everyone in the audience to be kind to themselves and others and to seek help if needed.
Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)
Eickhoff Hall 107
Hours: Monday–Friday, 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
Forcina Hall 124
Hours: Monday and Friday, 9 a.m. –4:30 p.m.
Tuesday–Thursday, 9 a.m.–9 p.m.
TCNJ Campus Police
Contact Campus Police by dialing 911 from any campus phone or 609-771-2345 from a cell phone.
New Jersey Hopeline:
Crisis Text Line:
Text “Start” to 741741
RESOURCES FOR TCNJ EMPLOYEES:
Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
Forcina Hall 124
After hours: 609-571-0677