In recent years, the fight to end the stigma around mental illness and to increase access to mental health care for those in need has taken major strides, both nationally and at the University of Richmond. On our campus, students feel increasingly compelled to promote mental health awareness, as demonstrated by the wide range of student-led organizations focusing on mental health. Although this is an accomplishment to be proud of, we must stay cognizant of the unfortunate reality: Mental health stigma remains alive and well.

It is our job to continue to promote a culture of acceptance and inclusivity on our campus. By doing this, not only can we ensure that those in need are treated appropriately, but we can also forge a community of mutual support and compassion.

From 9-11 p.m. this Thursday, Feb. 22, CAPS and the RCSGA will be co-sponsoring “In My Mind,” an open mic event at The Pier in Tyler Haynes Commons for students to support one another and share any and all mental health stories. As a preview of the event, please read the following contribution from your fellow Spiders, Ally Charleston and Omar Vicente. — Robert Ryan, Class of 2019

Omar Vicente, Class of 2018

I have found myself in a very interesting situation with my own thoughts while being in Richmond. With a beautiful campus to wake up to every morning, classes to keep me busy and learning, and with all the resources one could ask for, I still always felt that something was missing. Though I sometimes wish I could change things, I am glad that I eventually realized that I had anxiety, which drove me into a depression that fogged everything I did. Through all the confusion and uncertainties, I was glad that I had finally been able to take a good look at myself and recognize what I had. Only in that way could I take the situation and work with it.

I had the idea of sharing my own mental health story with others who also may find themselves in this peculiar state of mind. I was inspired by the annual event that takes place on campus, “Take Back the Night,” which focuses on the firsthand experiences shared by attendees that had been affected by sexual violence. Because I am a CAPS intern, I proposed creating a similar event that focused on mental health. Thankfully, this idea has come to fruition and will take place on Thursday, Feb. 22. “In My Mind” will be an open-mic event for those inspired to share their own story. Since everyone’s mental health background may not be appropriately expressed verbally, we will also be accepting art pieces that can range from poetry to sculpture to music. Finally, I would like to thank all of those in advance who participate, whether through sharing or simply attending the event.

Ally Charleston, Class of 2020

I’ve spent a great deal of my college career trying to wrap my head around mental health — beginning with my own. It then evolved into the creation of a community of other people who were struggling, too. Throughout last year, my first year of college, I felt the true weight of my thoughts for the first time. This made navigating freshman year excruciating, and the aching confusion as to why I was feeling this way only amplified the pain. I told myself I didn’t have the right to feel this pain that made every day feel like a performance.  There were no red flags in my life. I was attending an incredible liberal arts university and I had a loving family and a happy childhood. So, I figured I didn’t have the right to feel depressed — I had no reason to be. 

Then, I began to question this mentality. I went to CAPS. I eventually began medication. I began a blog, The Halcyon Girl, where I explored my newfound passion for figuring out what it means to navigate my own happiness. A year later, I’m still trying to untangle and shed light on the conversation around our minds. Through my role in WCGA, my blog, and any conversation that comes my way, I've learned to not hold back candor about my own mental health in hopes of helping others.

Mental health, no matter to what extent it has touched your life, must be addressed. It serves as the beginning, middle and end to all aspects of our being, and yet, we continue to silence those who need — and deserve — to be heard. That’s why I dove in head-first when CAPS reached out to me to help with the “In My Mind” event.

Come to support, express and unite the UR community as we work to silence the stigma around mental health and mental illness. Beyond the enthusiasm of those of us who have planned this event, come and help develop a community at this school; a community that promotes comfort and encouragement for all students who have ever struggled with mental health.

In My Mind will take place on Thursday, Feb. 22 at 9 p.m. in The Pier in THC. To submit something for the event anonymously, please email caps@richmond.edu. 

Contact contributors Ally Charlston, Robert Ryan, and Omar Vicente at ally.charlston@richmond.edu, robert.ryan@richmond.edu, and omar.vicente@richmond.edu.