Despite sitting in Starbucks on a rainy April afternoon, LSA junior Yumi Taguchi sported a warm smile. This, combined with her big eyes and sympathetic tone of voice hinted at why she might be such a comfort to students with mental health difficulties on campus.
Saying Taguchi is a mental health activist at the University of Michigan would be putting it mildly. She is involved in four different mental health-related extracurriculars — Active Minds, the Wolverine Support Network, the Counseling and Psychological Services Student Advisory Board and the Depression on College Campuses Planning Committee.
Taguchi is most heavily involved in the University’s chapter of Active Minds, a club she helped found in 2014 and will be co-director of in the 2016-2017 school year. Taguchi said when she came to the University, there were very few mental health organizations compared to now.
“The interest in mental health maintenance has risen so much,” she said. “There are so many more mental health organizations on campus now. We’re really proud that we get to be a part of that.”
Active Mind’s goal is to destigmatize mental health problems on campus by providing forums where students are encouraged to share their stories, as well as by hosting educational events.
One such event was Send Silence Packing. Last September, students walking to class could hardly help but notice the 1,100 backpacks scattered across the Diag, which were meant to represent the number of students who commit suicide every year in the United States. Taguchi co-planned this event along with LSA junior Alexandria Kolenda.
“The feedback we get from people who understand that mental health is something that is really important to take care of has been tremendous,” Taguchi said.
Sharing stories is something she cited multiple times as an important gateway to decreasing the stigma around mental health so common on college campuses.
“Through story sharing, you get an idea that this is not a problem that one specific group might have,” she said. “Everyone has feelings; everybody doesn’t feel well sometimes.”
Taguchi has experienced mental health issues both personally and peripherally. Her two sisters suffered from depression as she was growing up, and she suffered from an eating disorder during high school. Taguchi said she often shares her story at different events, including the Mental Health Monologues, where she performed last year.
“One of the most important things I’ve learned is for people to be able to open up to you, you have to be willing to open up to them,” Taguchi said.
As a student adviser for CAPS, Taguchi also has an opportunity to see the more administrative approach to students’ mental health difficulties on campus. She acts as a liaison between students and CAPS, and she said the role has been eye opening.
“Through Active Minds you hear a lot of things about CAPS — people aren’t as happy with CAPS,” Taguchi said. “Now that I’m on the CAPS SAB I have more of an appreciation for what CAPS does. I realize what the hurdles are for CAPS to be able to provide more services.”
These hurdles, Taguchi said, include both funding and a lack of available staff members to accommodate the high student demand. Currently CAPS does not meet the so-called gold standard of one counselor for every 1,000 students. On April 8, they launched a fundraising campaign from just under $3 million to $4 million.
Through her participation in so many mental health organizations, Taguchi has one overarching goal: she wants students to feel comfortable.
“Making sure people feel comfortable in their own skin, where they are currently, and they’re able to make the best out of their everyday because they feel comfortable,” Taguchi said. “That was one of the things that really attracted me to an organization like Active Minds.”