Students make mental health a priority

By Jazzy Davenport

In fall 2009, Columbia is set to become the first ever college chapter of To Write Love on Her Arms, a national organization that has dedicated itself to helping people who suffer from mental illnesses such as depression, suicide, addiction and self-injury.

“The Columbia chapter will be the first college chapter and will focus on destigmatizing mental health,” said Leslie Watland, coordinator of the Office of Student Engagement. “Students will be able to meet to support each other and find help within the Columbia and Chicagoland communities.”

Five students at Columbia decided there was a need for the presence of this organization on campus. The president of the Columbia group, Ashley Muir, had to attend an extensive training session by the national organization.

“I think this group will give a different face to mental health,” Muir said. “This is something that I’ve had in my life and people close to me have dealt with, and it is something that I feel has been lacking at Columbia.”

The group will collaborate with Columbia’s counseling service, which provides free individual therapy to students, to encourage students to seek mental health treatment.

“The school is excited about this new group,” Watland said. “This is something that Columbia has recognized is an ongoing issue with students, and they plan to provide sufficient resources.”

Columbia’s To Write Love on Her Arms chapter plans to organize both large- and small-scale events. Events will include sessions like open mic, but will be juxtaposed with educational material in order to raise awareness to the resources that are available to people in need.

“Of course, we will have to put Columbia’s spin on the new group,” Muir said. “We will include a lot of artsy stuff. We hope to have a large-scale, live event in the fall to kick off the year, but that is still in the very early stages of planning.”

The new group has not done a lot of promotion yet, as the group will not become official until June 1. Muir said her inbox, however, has been full with student requests for information about the group. Faculty have also reached out to her offering their help with the group.

“Because a lot of students have heard of the national organization, they are excited about having a chapter here at Columbia,” Muir said. “We are just trying to increase the feeling of community here.”

“I think you will see some tremendous things from this group,” said Robert Cronberg, faculty adviser to the new student organization. “This is a big organization and I think it will be one of the heaviest groups as far as student participation. It will be unlike any other student group that Columbia has ever had.”

In addition to the To Write Love on Her Arms group, Columbia’s counseling center has also begun hosting Alcoholics Awareness (AA) meetings for students who suffer from alcohol addiction. They have created a Create Change Recovery Group that is self-run by the members involved.

“We saw a need for a recovery group that targeted young adults,” said Jackie Sowinski, director of Counseling Services. “The Create Change Recovery group has been a well attended group. We need to encourage students to get help for things they might be going through. That’s why we practice outreach and prevention methods in the counseling center.”

Counseling Services, which always sees an increase in appointments at the end of the academic year, will continue to offer services throughout the summer, including the weekly Create Change Recovery meetings and individual therapy for students.

As for To Write Love on Her Arms, according to Cronberg, there will be some major event announcements coming soon.