More than 60 University of Michigan students gathered in the Vandenberg Room of the Michigan League Monday night to tell stories, share experiences and support one another during a mental health speak out sponsored by LSA Student Government.
The event came at a time when student demand for mental health resources is on the rise — the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services reported a 17-percent increase in demand for counseling service in 2014-2015, more than four times its expected increase. The CAPS report specifies the top five student-identified mental health concerns as anxiety, depression, self-esteem, academic problems and relationship difficulties.
During Tuesday’s event, speakers shared their history of dealing with mental illness throughout college and the stigmas they encountered.
LSA sophomore Anna Giacomini, former vice chair of the health committee for LSA student government who helped organize the event, said it was based off a January speak out against Islamophobia and aimed to raise awareness and initiate further discussion about mental health on campus.
“We wanted to host an event that provided a safe space and a safe environment for people to talk about mental health and stop the stigma that mental health issues are a bad thing,” Giacomini said. “Because a lot of people suffer from them.”
Giacomini noted that she and other student government students are also currently working on initiatives to get CAPS extended to North Campus. She also stressed that given the prevalence of mental health issues on campus, it’s important for students to know they are not alone and have a large student support system available.
LSA freshman Michael Sacchetti, current chair of the health committee, said the event was meant to create a welcoming environment for students battling mental health issues.
“It’s really important especially to make it aware that students do battle mental health issues on campus,” Sacchetti said.
At the event, many students were hesitant to share their stories at first, but eventually one by one — even those who said initially they were not planning to speak — shared stories expressing the need for compassion, awareness, and increased resources for those with mental health issues.
In her remarks, LSA sophomore Lauren Matson expressed frustration with the University’s response to student demands for more resources, though she also acknowledged the work administrators are doing in an interview after the speak out.
“Mental health stigma on this campus and on any college campus is so prevalent,” Matson said. “And, because it has been something that I have been constantly dealing with, I really wanted to come and just encourage others that they’re not alone in this.”
Marjorie Horton, LSA assistant dean for undergraduate education, said she attended the event because she believes faculty support was crucial to supporting students with mental health problems.
“The event was really valuable both in terms of giving students a safe space to share their stories and also inform other students here about the range of resources and how important it is to support friends who are suffering from mental health concerns,” Horton said.
LSA senior Marlee Beckering, who also attended the event, is a part of the “Help CAPS Catch Up” project, an initiative centered around collecting names from students to later use in letters to administrators regarding requests for increased mental health resources on campus. Beckering said the largest demand “Help CAPS Catch Up” is pursuing is to increase the budget for CAPS, echoing some of the concerns of speak out participants.
“(We will be) asking for specific things that we want to see enacted on campus in terms of mental health resources,” Beckering said. “Right now, we are not covering the entirety of our campus.”