According to the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, sonder is "the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own." As students gathered inside The Pier on a cold, rainy Thursday night, just after Tyler’s Grill had pulled its gates closed for the evening, sonder soon became evident to everyone.
Sonder also happens to be one of junior Ally Charleston’s favorite words, she said. Charleston is one of six Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) interns who spearheaded the second annual In My Mind mental health open mic night.
In My Mind was a focal point of the University of Richmond's Mental Health Week, which took place last week. The event had also been an original idea by one of last year’s CAPS interns, Omar Vicente, who modeled it after Take Back the Night, an annual event in which people speak out and stand together against sexual violence, said Kristen Day, the CAPS intern supervisor and a CAPS staff psychologist.
“Our mission is twofold,” Day said. “The first is to reduce any stigma around mental health, and the other is to promote CAPS and other mental wellness resources.”
A few of the organizations that helped plan the event were Richmond College Student Government Association (RCSGA), WCGA, Interfraternity Council, the Jepson School of Leadership Studies Student Government Association and the athletics department.
On March 21, students were given the opportunity to come forward and break the stigma surrounding both mental illness and mental health by writing, speaking or listening.
“It is an open mic night with two parts,” said senior Hannah Wolfe, a CAPS intern. The first half hour was all performances by students, she said.
This year, campus a cappella group Off the Cuff and an individual student performer, sophomore Kayla Saltzman, kicked off the event.
An information session followed the performances, and after that the event transitioned into an open mic night, Wolfe said.
"Anyone who wants to share any mental health experience can," Wolfe said. "If students are uncomfortable sharing their story personally, they’re able to submit them anonymously, and CAPS interns will read them."
Over the course of two hours, students used both of these options.
The support in the room was palpable enough to draw in people just walking through Tyler Haynes Commons.
“It works so well in The Pier because oftentimes people would stop and listen and get to participate in the event,” Charleston said. “The space created a community of people and we were really proud of that.”
Senior Monica Stack, WCGA president, said that as an organization, WCGA had been excited to raise awareness of everything students had been doing on campus to build this supportive mental health community.
“If you’re in a place where you’re ready to share your experience, there are so many students who are ready to listen," Stack said. "Beyond that, there are so many students who are trained to help you. So, it’s a community that supports you and is here for you but also a community that has put work into being able to help you with whatever you may be going through.”
Specifically, all of the CAPS interns earned certifications in mental health first aid, Wolfe said. She said they had gone through an eight-hour training so they would be able to help at different events such as In My Mind.
“I think that the message we’re sending is that Richmond is there for you, as a school and as a student body,” Wolfe said.
At the event, CAPS had counselors on-site available to talk to any student in need of their support. Nevertheless, because of the community atmosphere and extensive training of the interns, this was not often necessary.
“The counselors are here just in case,” Day said. “Because this is supposed to be an empowering event, we have found that students seek support from their peers and the trained CAPS interns.”
In My Mind made it clear that it was crucial to continue having conversations and extending, as well as asking for, support.
“Your generation, research shows, is taking advantage of and seeking out resources," Day said. "The momentum is there already, so now it’s just a matter of keeping it going and supporting one another.”
Contact contributor Maddie Kelley at firstname.lastname@example.org.