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University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy
"It's OK not to be OK" De-Stigmatizing Conversations Surrounding our Mental Health
by Josiah Baker, P3, PharmD Candidate, ICHP Student Chapter President University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy
According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 4 people will experience one or more mental health crises during their lifetime. To put this in perspective, nearly 1.88 billion people worldwide will deal with mental health related issues. Odds are that you or someone you know has been personally affected by mental health issues. Mental health is a topic of conversation that has been largely avoided and notably stigmatized for decades in many social and cultural circles due to misunderstandings and in some cases, vilification. These stigmas create a culture of deafening silence in spaces where struggling voices are desperate to be heard the most. This silence is crippling, and it consistently erodes our ability to participate in proactive outreach and empowerment.
This year, the student chapter of ICHP at the UIC College of Pharmacy in Chicago committed to breaking the silence. In March 2019, we joined forces with Hope for the Day to officially learn how to de-stigmatize conversations surrounding mental health. Hope for the Day is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is dedicated to proactively preventing suicide through provisions of community outreach and mental health education. Carl Evans, pictured below, shared his compelling testimony with a group of 120 pharmacy students during an ICHP mental wellness event. He continues to impact many more with his deliberate destruction of stigmas that once confined us. Carl likened the building pressure of a shaken soda can to the pressure of continually concealing the effects of anxiety, depression, or other emotional stressors. As individuals, family members, friends, community leaders, and certainly as future healthcare professionals we have a responsibility to recognize signs of mental unrest. Once signs are recognized, we are able to respond with love, hope, and resources for treatment as needed.
By embracing open communication about mental health, we bring hope and most importantly freedom to ourselves and to those around us. There should never be shame in reaching out for help. As Carl reiterated countless times throughout his story, it truly is “ok not to be ok.” The first step in the healing process is allowing an individual to recognize the feelings they are experiencing and then seek help when they are ready. When confronted with complex emotional situations, many people have a tendency to want to “fix” the individual. Rather than offering up a quick fix to the situation, creating space for free expression and discovery of emotions yields a greater benefit to everyone involved. Being heard is a therapeutic experience and focused listening demonstrates care.
Through this initiative, our student community grew closer and became increasingly aware of mental wellness within ourselves and our social circles. The statistics surrounding mental health are staggering and we are living in an age where mental wellness must be paramount. I challenge everyone to openly embrace the issue. Protect your joy. Find healthy releases. Seek help when you find yourself or others around you struggling and forge a path towards wellness. Educate yourself about mental health, share tools such as the Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255), and have personal conversations with your loved ones. Let’s fight together to break the silence.
(Pictured: Alex Nudo (P2, Mental Wellness Chair), Amanda Vitrano, Carl Evans)