Student Speakers Discuss Mental Illness in “Stomp out the Stigma” Event
Around 250 students gathered to listen to speakers tell their stories about mental illness on April 16 at an event titled “Stomp out the Stigma,” a project of the Active Minds club.
According to advertisements for the event, this program was designed to send the message that “mental health is a normal, common problem and seeking help is 100% acceptable and encouraged.” The program had three keynote speakers; one guest lecturer followed by two student speakers. Following the conversation about mental health issues and the benefits of seeking help, a representative from the counseling center spoke briefly to the crowd and encouraged students to take advantage of their services.
The National Alliance on Mental health reported in 2015 that nearly “1 in 5 adults in the U.S. — 43.8 million, or 18.5% — experiences mental illness in a given year.” And one in five young adults (ages 13-18) — or 21.4% — “experiences a severe mental disorder” in their life.
The program opened with remarks from a president of the Active Minds club, Yisroel Mayefsky. Co-President Emily Rosenblatt then introduced the guest speaker Aliza Blumenthal, the Director of Student Life at Bruriah High School, who frequently speaks to groups on the topic of mental health.
Blumenthal opened with a discussion of her past struggles with anorexia, bulimia, and depression. Throughout the conversation, she spoke about the damaging effects of stigma attached to mental illness and how it can be harmful in seeking the help a person needs. She also discussed the positive impact of seeking professional help and having a support system.
She concluded by saying, “anyone who has had feelings like I just described, please know that you can be an amazing spouse, parent, friend, an asset to your community and job. You can be successful, and do anything you want to, even though you struggle with something.”
Dovid Schwartz, a Senior in Yeshiva College, spoke about his battle with depression in relation to his study of Torah. “I care about excellence. I relentless pursue it; I obsess about it; I meditate on it; I brood over it; I also torment and torture myself with it. Because of this, I have always -- or at least as far back as I can recall -- felt inadequate.”
Schwartz explained what it means to have clinical depression, and the deep impact it can have on a person’s life. He also spoke about the benefits of therapy and medication, explaining that recovery is a long process. “...we continue to look ahead with an immodest hope and an unwarranted courage. We seek help, not because we are weak, we seek help because we are strong enough to know weakness.”
Shanee Markovitz, a sophomore at Stern College for Women, founding Vice President for Refuat Hanefesh, and a student speaker at the event, related the story of her mother’s suicide. She spoke about the importance of asking for help, breaking the silence, and therapy. “Deciding to break my silence has allowed me to be relatable by extending empathy,” she said.
Markovitz also discussed her experience with post traumatic stress disorder, and how therapy helped her regain control over her life. “The decision to go to therapy continued daily, despite the hard work it required and how drained it left me feeling. The whole time, I kept remembering why I made [the] decision...of getting the professional help I deserve: I believe in myself and my future.”
She ended by expressing that there is a lot of work to be done. Markovitz called upon institutions to invest in providing “education and outreach,” saying that mental illness should be treated the same as physical illness.
Max Gruber, a Junior in the Sy Syms School of Business and a first time attendee of the program, remarked, “the people who have the courage to speak tonight are heroes.”
Associate Direct of the counseling center, Dr. Martin Galla, reminded students that help is always available. He also mentioned that the counseling center is there to discuss anything and can be reached at email@example.com.
The counseling center, according to their website, provides free confidential consultation to students. Students from all campuses are welcome to discuss issues such as anxiety, relationships, depression, familial issues, and death — among others things. According to Dr. Galla, the counseling center currently services 20-25% of the Yeshiva University student population.
Student representatives from the Crisis Text Hotline were also present. The hotline is a national service that was founded in 2013. Users can text in their crisis to 741741 and speak to a “trained Crisis Counselor” if they are in a “hot moment.” Volunteers can sign up at crisistextline.com/volunteer.
Shira Wein, a student volunteer for the Crisis Hotline, said “There’s no reason too small to reach out.”