The Collegian
Monday, August 03, 2020

Break the Stigma walk promotes solidarity and conversations around mental health

<p>University students gather to hear speakers before walking to Break the Stigma. <em>Image courtesy of Kami Kosharova</em>.</p>

University students gather to hear speakers before walking to Break the Stigma. Image courtesy of Kami Kosharova.

Editor's Note: This article was updated to include more student organizations that helped with the event.

Caleb Brooks, a sophomore football player, knows what it is like to struggle with mental health and the stigma that surrounds it.

“It’s not something you can change by just toughing it out,” Brooks said to the crowd of participants during the closing statement of the Break the Stigma Walk on March 24.

The walk, sponsored by the Interfraternity Council (IFC) and the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), aimed to bring awareness to the stigma surrounding mental health at the University of Richmond. The National Panhellenic Conference and National Pan-Hellenic Council also helped with the event, said IFC President Dan Mahoney.

“Our whole mood around this entire event is that mental health can be such a stressful and sensitive topic, and we want to be able to create an environment where we can talk about it,” said junior Abby Lyons, president of the SAAC and a field hockey player.

After gathering at the E. Claiborne Robins Stadium, attendees of the event listened to opening remarks from Mahoney and University Chaplain Craig Kocher.

Kocher discussed the importance of listening to friends going through difficult times.

“Being willing to share, being willing to listen, being willing to walk with other people who are in a difficult time without feeling the need to fix it ... strikes me as fundamental to what it means to be a good friend," Kocher said.

Mahoney said the event had two main goals: breaking the stigma around talking about mental health at UR and building solidarity between different groups on campus.

"I think as much as I love this school, it can sometimes be a little bit segregated based on what communities we associate with," Mahoney said, "whether that be Greek life, athletics, or any other student organizations."

After the opening remarks, participants broke glow sticks to symbolize breaking the stigma. They then walked a modified 5K route around campus and gathered back at Robins Stadium for the closing remarks.

Participants such as Tamar Accius, a first-year sprinter on the women's track and field team, praised the event for bringing people from all different organizations together to discuss the importance of mental health, especially in student-athletes.

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“The idea of mental health in athletes is kind of looked over because athletes are supposed to act tough and be the strongest they can be," Accius said. "So it was a great movement for awareness."

Discussions of mental health should be encouraged, Mahoney said.

“Mental health affects everyone on this campus and I think it’s something we all struggle to talk about,” Mahoney said. “But it's a conversation we’ve been having internally in both Greek life and athletics to try to figure out ways to do a better job of communicating openly about how we as individuals … are dealing with the struggle of daily life.”

Working closely with SAAC on this event was a good experience for the IFC, Mahoney said, and a relationship with the SAAC is one that IFC hopes to foster in the future in order to continue to build relationships with various groups at UR.

Lyons expressed similar views.

“I envision this being a small stepping stone into our goal of bridging these gaps between non-athletes and athletes and other organizations on campus," Lyons said.

Contact news writer Maeve McCormick at maeve.mccormick@richmond.edu. 

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