By: Avraham Frohlich  | 

Students Share Their Mental Health Journeys at Stomp Out the Stigma

On Wednesday, April 19, YU’s chapter of Active Minds hosted its thirteenth annual Stomp Out the Stigma event in Lamport Auditorium. The event, which aims to destigmatize mental health challenges and promote awareness of mental health resources, featured three YU students who spoke about their relationships with mental health. As noted in last year's article about the event, Stomp Out the Stigma consistently garners the highest level of attendance of any YU event, and this year was no exception, with hundreds of YU students, faculty and alumni in attendance. Due to the sensitive nature of the subject, and at the request of some of the speakers, The Commentator has excluded the names of two of the three speakers.

Yael Berger (SCW ‘24), co-president of YU’s Active Minds chapter, began the night by introducing President Ari Berman to give opening remarks. Berman began by thanking Active Minds and the Counseling Center for organizing the event, remarking that Stomp Out the Stigma is “one of the most impactful events on our university calendar” and “reflects the essence of who we are as a community and as a family.” He then shared some words of Torah, noting that the willingness of the YU student body to “support each other” and see “every single person as kadosh [holy]” stands in stark contrast to the behavior of the students of Rabbi Akiva, who had “narrow eyes” and saw each other in a superficial manner. President Berman concluded by thanking the speakers, stating that he “admire[s] so much the strength and the courage of our students who tell their story.” 

Following Berman’s speech, Berger thanked the Counseling Center, the Office of Student Life and others who made the event possible and introduced Miriam Bluth (SCW ‘24), fellow co-president of Active Minds, to introduce Rachel Eisenstein (SCW ‘24) as the evening’s first speaker. Eisenstein began by describing herself as “a girl from Seattle, who loves reading, growing my shoe collection and acquiring eyeshadow palettes.” During her speech, Eisenstein talked about her experiences with generalized anxiety, depression and anorexia nervosa restricting type. She explained that while people often feel anxious, “anxiety as a disorder is different” and can be “completely crippling,” even resulting in physical symptoms. She then described how her anxiety and the resulting loss of control brought about struggles with depression, dissociation and, at times, self-harm. Eisenstein went on to talk about her struggles with an eating disorder and her experience in a residential treatment center. 

Over time and with the aid of therapy, she began to “fight and improve” and learned how to respond effectively to unhealthy thoughts, dubbed “Leo.” After expressing how grateful she is for her therapists’ support and guidance, Eisenstein stressed the importance of patient advocacy within therapy. She also thanked her friends and family, stating that it is “imperative to have a solid support system.” Eisenstein closed by explaining her motivation for speaking, saying that “most people are not aware of just how many people are suffering from mental illnesses,” which “enables people to hide their struggles” and not get the help they need. She expressed hope that sharing her story will “help others feel comfortable talking about these issues and for those who need it to find support.”

The next speaker, also a Beren student, was introduced by Avygayl Zucker (SCW ‘24). In her speech, the student opened up about her experiences with anxiety, depression and borderline personality disorder (BPD). She started off by describing her turbulent home life, which led her to see a therapist from the Counseling Center. While therapy was “really nerve-racking at first,” she ended up finding it “really cathartic.” She then described how, due to increased tensions at home, she was forced to leave and felt lost and alone. As a result, she began to lose motivation and had trouble sleeping and eating healthily. After meeting with a new therapist, she was diagnosed with depression and later with BPD, which included anger management issues and a fear of abandonment among other symptoms. 

The student quipped that her “brain definitely has a six-pack” from all the hard work she’s put into working on her mental health. After working with her therapist, she started repairing her relationship with her parents, moving past behaviors that caused fighting. Nowadays, she regularly goes home and has an easier time sleeping thanks to sleep training. To all those that supported her throughout her journey, she stated that she “thank[s] God every day that you were in my life.” In closing, she remarked that "no matter how alone you are, there is always someone on your side.”

The final speaker of the evening, introduced by Tehila Bitton (SCW ‘24), was a Wilf student. The speaker talked about his struggles with mental health and dedicated his speech to the memory of a relative who had struggled with similar issues. He began by stating that “I’ve always seen myself as a firework — jarring, impactful, but ultimately short-lived.” After detailing his childhood experiences with anxiety, the speaker talked about his chaotic, often overwhelming, high school experience and his rough start at YU. Despite feeling lonely and experiencing intense anxiety and depression during his freshman year, he stated that “almost no one realized that I was struggling because I covered it up so well, and I was still doing so much.” During COVID, his struggles intensified, which resurfaced concerns about his “fate as a firework.”

Later on, the student began meeting with a therapist whom he called instrumental in his “maintaining [his] health and well-being ever since.” The therapist helped him construct healthy coping mechanisms and internalize that he is “not a slave to” his emotions. Thanks to a “robust support system” and “a heightened sense of self-awareness,” he declared that he is no longer fated to be a firework. While he doesn’t consider himself immune from future mental health struggles, he stated that “the progress that I have made and the lessons I have learned have made me stronger in the long run.” As a closing message, he implored the student body to understand that being a “high achiever and someone with mental illness is [not] mutually exclusive” and not to judge “anyone else and especially yourself based on the challenges you’re faced with instead of who you are as a person.” 

To close out the evening, Dr. Yael Muskat, the director of the Counseling Center at YU, shared some remarks. After thanking all those who organized and supported the event, Muskat singled out the speakers for their “incredible bravery” and for “inspiring us to have hope and to remember to get help when you need it the most.” In that vein, she urged all students that are struggling to schedule appointments with the Counseling Center. “Above all,” Muskat shared, the speakers tonight “remind us that challenges are a part of life. They don’t define us. They make us stronger. And you are not alone.” 

“It was amazing to see such a large turnout at an event like this,” Bluth said, reflecting on the evening’s success. “It really makes YU feel like a community of people who truly care and listen and support their peers. I’m so grateful to have been part of the process and am so glad that YU has carried on the tradition of hosting this program for many consecutive years now because it truly does make a difference.”

“Attending Stomp Out the Stigma was an eye-opening experience,” Dov Frank (YC ‘25), a first-time attendee, remarked. “It was inspiring to see fellow students bravely sharing their struggles with mental health, and it made me realize that I'm not alone in my own journey. I feel as though the event gave hope and motivation to the general student body to prioritize mental well-being to a far greater degree.”

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Photo Caption: Rachel Eisenstein (SCW ‘24) speaking at Stomp Out the Stigma

Photo Credit: Yeshiva University