Members of Greek Life share struggles at first mental health speak out

Monday, December 5, 2016 - 9:50pm

About 150 students gathered in the Pendleton Room of the Michigan Union Monday night for a mental health speak out sponsored by all four councils of the University of Michigan Greek life. During the event, students shared personal stories regarding mental health and discussed how to manage stress during finals week.

Students who did not want to speak out publicly were also able to submit their stories through an anonymous portal for event leaders to read.

The speak out was the first event centered around mental health University Greek life has held — similar to the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center and Panhellenic Association’s first speak out last February regarding sexual assault — with the goal of raising awareness about mental health and allowing for open discussions among students and faculty. Students discussed a number of concerns such as issues with depression, anxiety and body image.

Due to the nature of the event, The Michigan Daily was asked not to record or photograph speakers who shared personal anecdotes.

LSA senior Lexi Wung, Panhellenic Association Executive Board president, said before the event that on a personal level, she felt it was important to host a speak out.

“Specifically in our community, I feel like (mental health) is so stigmatized, especially in Greek life,” Wung said. “Having mental concerns, having mental health problems, is seen as debilitating, is seen as something that you want to hide … We think that there hasn’t been enough done on campus to start (breaking down the stigma).”

Other organizations on campus have held mental health speak outs in recent years to emphasize the importance of self-care and destigmatize mental health, such as LSA Student Government and the University’s chapter of Active Minds. In addition, University President Mark Schlissel has spoken about increasing mental health resources on campus alongside the student-launched Help CAPS Catch Up campaign.

Many of these events came in response to the 2014-2015 Counseling and Psychological Services report outlining the top five student-identified mental health concerns as anxiety, depression, self-esteem, academic problems and relationship difficulties. Additionally, the report found a 17-percent increase in demand for counseling services that year. Nationwide, mental health is an onging concern on college campuses — in a 2011 survey from the American College Health Association, 30 percent of college students have reported at some point in the previous year feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function,” and overall, students are seeking treatment for mental health concerns at higher and higher numbers, according to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health. 

Numerous student speakers at the event acknowledged the support of CAPS. Todd Sevig, director of CAPS, wrote in an email interview Monday night that he was glad to see students taking initiative in the ongoing campus discussions surrounding mental health. 

"I am so appreciative of the Greek System for holding this event," Sevig wrote. "It's critical for our campus to hear and understand the real stories of how mental health plays out in students' day-to-day lives.  This first-ever event is also a wonderful example of how student empowerment can help change lives and help our campus culture be 100% supportive of mental health."

Kinesiology senior Joe Filipiak, the Interfraternity Council judicial vice president and lead organizer of the event, said before the event he thought it was crucial to hold a speak out regarding mental health, especially before exams.

“(Mental health) is a big issue, not only within the Greek community, but on college campuses in general,” Filipiak said. “We see how it affects our friends, we see how it affects our fraternity brothers, sorority sisters, et cetera, and we figured it was time to start changing the stigma and speak out about it.”

Filipiak also noted how widespread mental health issues are, particularly in a demanding academic environment.

“It really affects everyone, especially at a school like Michigan where there’s so much emphasis being put on your grades or academic performance, being the Leaders and the Best,” Filipiak said. “So that finals talk can really stress people out, so we wanted to give people a reminder before they really hunker down and start studying that there is a community here if they are experiencing any of that stress, any of that depression.”

Wung emphasized the difficulty of sharing stories in public, saying she used her own experiences to contribute to the planning of the event.

“I had so many health concerns coming to college and especially during my first term as president; I really got to my lowest point and having this community around me is what really made the difference between being here today and being a different person here today,” Wung said.

Both Filipiak and Wung said they hope to hold future events similar to Monday’s speak out to continue to bring attention to depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns on campus.