Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana students tackle mental health on campus with new group

On Thursday, Mar. 9, Augustana students brought a new mental health group, the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), to campus. At a meeting in Olin 208 at 7 p.m., Augie NAMI president and sophomore Courtney Baker introduced the group to a small gathering of interested students.
Baker lead the meeting with help from the fundraising coordinator Melanie Loeffler and activities coordinators Amanda Lindau and Brandie Minogue, all sophomores. They distributed lists of basic mental health resources, such as hotlines for suicide and eating disorders, the group led students through a mindfulness/meditation exercise with the aid of Spotify’s Headspace playlists. Activities coordinators Amanda Lindau and Brandie Minogue explained that similar exercises will continue to be featured in the group’s regular meetings. Attending students were also invited to add their favourite music to a common playlist, which would be used at meetings.
Augie NAMI takes inspiration from the national NAMI network. The student group aims to address and raise awareness about mental health needs on campus. They aspire to promote early detection and intervention of mental health illnesses, combat stigma, and establish relationships with related local services.
Baker began to struggled with her mental health during her freshman year. After having to drop out of school, Baker returned determined to find a mental health organization which she could bring to campus.
After choosing  NAMI, Baker reached out to the Dean of Students, as well as the local NAMI organisation, working closely with a representative there in order to bring the group to campus.
“All of us know what it feels like to be going through something like this, but not being able to tell anyone about it,” Baker said during the meeting. “I had no place telling me it was okay to share, and that’s what I’m hoping people will get out of this group, so we can direct them to people who can help.”
While Augustana NAMI is working closely with Active Minds, Baker said that unlike the older group, which focuses on advocacy and education, NAMI will also focus heavily on peer-to-peer support and connections.
Assistant Professor of Public Health Rebecca Heick, the group’s faculty advisor, was driven by interests both professional and personal to take up the position. An Augustana graduate herself, she “struggled with anxiety and depression” but was able to return “healing and ready to move forward.” She considers stigma an important factor in the conversation about mental health, saying, “We have definitely made progress in reducing stigma and increasing resources since then, but there is still much work to be done in eliminating stigma and ensuring students feel comfortable reaching out for help. When Courtney approached me about being the faculty advisor for the NAMI group on campus, I welcomed the opportunity to become more involved with this important aspect of improving and safeguarding the health and well-being of our campus community.”
Baker said she received strong encouragement from members of Augustana’s counseling services when setting up the group. She also said that while the administration were undecided at first about the need for another mental health group on campus, they have since been highly supportive of the project. Heick agreed, saying that the administration understands that such a group could help students get more than a great liberal arts education from their college experience, by helping them “learn more about themselves” and “be open about the challenges they face”.
Assistant Professor of Psychology Jessica Schultz, who describes herself as Augie NAMI’s “behind-the-scenes cheerleader,” said she was extremely excited about the work done by the students so far. “There’s a pressing need to talk about these issues, and Augie NAMI will help achieve that by normalizing mental illness, challenging the casual stigmas in everyday life and telling students that they’re not alone here.” She said that NAMI was an appropriate organization to model on because of its national reach, its history of success and accessible local resources. Heick expressed a similar opinion, stating that “having a NAMI student group at Augustana will bring greater attention to the importance of mental health as a key part of success both here on campus and in the world beyond.”
“I’m also interested to see how the group handles the intersection of identity with mental illness, as students here are affected by a diverse set of circumstances” Schultz said. She added “I’m really excited for this kind of student led change, and the wonderful ways in which they’re able to step up.”
Heick anticipated strong student interest in the group, saying “Many of our students know the stigma of mental illness and the pain it can cause – whether for them or for someone they care about. This group’s focus on addressing that stigma and building resilience will be a draw for many in the campus community.”
Augie NAMI expects to begin meeting regularly from Week 3 at 4:30pm on Thursdays. The location is still to be determined. Projects for Spring Term include beginning a Stigma Free campaign, participate in the Mental Health Walk set for May 6., and organized with Active Minds and the Delta Phi Kappa Greek group, and continuing to build a healthy community.
“I was able to come back after I dropped out. Other people aren’t so lucky,” Baker said. “I want to show other people that they can go through that and still be successful. We need to see fewer students who had to give up their dreams because they didn’t have the right support.

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Augustana students tackle mental health on campus with new group