Sitting down to speak with Mentality Magazine, I was sucked into a space where honesty was encouraged, where mental health and art were intertwined and where speaking up was and always will be the answer.
The student-run publication made its first appearance at the University at Festifall this past semester. After years of not having an organization dedicated to freely writing and publishing work exclusively about mental health, Mentality Magazine filled the space.
“If you think it’s important to write about, put it out there,” said Anna Learis, an Engineering sophomore and senior editor of the magazine.
With a once a semester print publication, weekly meetings and a constant stream of website posts, the group produces content with individual styles and twists. Every writer contributes his/her own perspective on mental health, highlighting how it affects everyone differently. This originality in their work also reflects the individuality of mental illnesses, according to Liz Fernandez, an LSA freshman and writer for Mentality.
“Stories weave themselves naturally because they are real people’s emotions,” Fernandez said. “You don’t fabricate it. Those stories and emotions themselves are inherently motivating.”
Learis and Fernandez explained the different types of articles that the magazine publishes. Producing columns — like “Speak Out Sundays,” which connects mental health and celebrities — allows the writers to talk about mental health through other artists and art mediums. Additionally, the writers do “Mid-Week Music” playlists, where they compile songs that reflect how they are feeling that week.
The women also described how the articles serve as opportunities to discuss how the outside world may or may not fully understand the extent to which people suffer from mental illness. Some of the articles display the negative stigmas of mental illness in media, review mental practices like meditation and even discuss the importance of the simple, but helpful sun lamp.
Learis also explained that the pieces propose little, “gimmicky mental health things,” providing ideas as to how people can cope with mental health.
However, it is important to note that Mentality Magazine is not solely a group of people who have mental health related issues and are writing about it. The group strives to shine light on mental health and to profile the importance of awareness, especially on a college campus, but does not restrict its staff only to those who are personally affected.
“Our primary goal as a magazine is to foster the conversation about (mental health),” Learis said. “Our view is that, by sharing our stories, we want people to feel less alone.”
In order to create such a distinct and serious publication, Learis really thought about her personal life and how mental health has affected her.
“In high school we had to read Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself’,” she said. It was here where she realized she can “write bluntly, but still artistically” about the things that mattered most to her –– the recognition and severity that is mental health.
“It doesn’t have to be black and white … you don’t have to sugarcoat things,” she added. With these conditions in mind, Learis was determined to design a space for mental health and to bring forth the concept that the it is more common than many believe.
And as one of the first student-run, mental health publications on college campuses across the country — and the only one at the University — Mentality Magazine has a duty to perform.
“There is a power in writing, both reading it and doing it yourself,” Fernandez said when explaining the difference between reading someone’s story versus just hearing it.
The magazine staff continues to share their stories and perspectives not only with the public, but closely with one another. As a tight-knit group, organization members spends time outside of work, like hanging out at Sweetwaters and holding pot lucks. They openly talk about how their mental health affects each of them on a daily basis.
“I had a really hard time adjusting to college,” Fernandez explained. “I was so sad in a place where everyone is so excited,” and she did not quite understand why.
Encouraging that conversation, the group lingered on Fernandez’s phrase about feeling lonely at a new place like the University, not letting it slip into the shadows like so many mental health topics usually do. They are the type of people expanding on the question: Why isn’t this something people talk more about?
“People are looking for a community to sit and talk, and that is OK,” Learis added.
These hangouts are not like typical therapy sessions –– ones that can be intimidating or scary when expressing one’s mental health problems. They’re a group of trustworthy friends who understand that there is no need to hold back about the issues at hand.
“(Mentality Magazine) creates a culture where people can talk about it and be comfortable … I immediately felt connected to these people,” Fernandez said.
The beauty of the magazine is that anyone can submit pieces to it, not just MM writers or University Michigan students.
Learis said she frequently recieves emails from readers stating that they appreciate Mentality, and also want to contribute to the conversation.
“I would (write an article) 1,000 times over if it means making one person feel better about their condition or about how they are feeling on any given day.”