“It’s okay to feel…” campaign boosts visibility of mental health issues – Hamilton College

by Alex Reboredo ’22 Katherine O’Malley ’19, Opinion Editor Contributing Writer

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Image Courtesy of Hamilton College Minds 4 Change

Walking through the Kirner-Johnson Building, you may see signs saying things like, “It’s okay to feel exhausted.” Maybe you shrug it off and keep moving down Martin’s Way or maybe you take a sigh of relief knowing that you’re not alone.

These posters are courtesy of Minds for Change, a student-run organization at Hamilton led in part by Sam Zachar ’21 and Erin Bryant ’21. Serving as a safe and open forum for everyone on campus, Minds for Change is devoted to sparking conversations surrounding mental health, freeing the stigma around mental illness, and fostering a culture of support at Hamilton.

If you feel like you’ve received more emails and heard about more events from Minds for Change this year, you’re not alone. The club has begun to regularly provide workshops, initiatives, and meetings to talk about mental health on campus. Their most recent campaign included hanging posters and stickers around campus that say, “It’s okay to feel…”, followed by words like “sad,” “overwhelmed,” “disappointed,” and “happy.” The goal of the campaign is to validate people’s emotions, reinforce the fact that they’re not alone, and initiate conversation among students regarding the culture of support here.

“It’s mainly just about decreasing whatever stigma is related to those emotions especially since some people go through a lot of stuff — especially all at once — and they deserve the right to feel whatever way it is about that,” said Minds for Change Co-Head Erin Bryant ’21.

“I feel like people are very silent about what they’re going through on this campus and they’re like ‘Oh, it’s all happy and dandy,’ when, in reality, people are going

through things,” said Minds for Change Co-Head Sam Zachar ’21. “It’s important to acknowledge that and make sure people are comfortable in feeling those emotions and know that other people are feeling them as well.”

The campaign is also meant to spark conversations about mental health on campus.

“We’re just hoping to start a larger conversation, get people to talk about it. Someone sees a sticker and they’re like ‘Oh, why’d you choose that sticker?’ Just something simple like that to get a conversation started and get people talking about how they feel,” says Zachar.

Being in college — away from home and family — is something that affects different people in different ways. And at Hamilton, there is a standard of rigor to follow that can be overwhelming to many. “I feel like at this campus just any[thing] other than high-achieving — which isn’t even an emotion — was looked down upon, or seen as not acceptable,” said Zachar. “Everyone has mental health, not everyone has a mental illness, but every- one has mental health. And, statistically, everyone knows someone with a mental illness. So, it’s something that impacts literally everyone. It’s important to just talk about and bring to light.”

For others, that stigma is also found within their communities back home.

“I saw my grandmother diagnosed with bipolar disorder but Hispanic communities don’t believe in bipolar disorder, so I always grew up in an environment that was like ‘You’re supposed to be happy all the time,’” said Bryant.

In the upcoming semesters, Minds for Change hopes to meet with different student organizations on campus to tackle issues relative to their communities.

“Everyone experiences their own trauma in one form or another, and it’s so important to normalize it and get people talking about it,” says Zachar. “I feel like we all just keep it hidden, and locked up, and bottled up. If you keep doing that it’s not going to get any better. It’s going to get worse.”

In addition to their events throughout the semester, Minds for Change has weekly meetings where they plan their events and discuss a new topic of conversation. Last week, members had an insightful conversation on self-care versus self-indulgence. The club meetings serve as a safe space for students to bring up any topic they may want to discuss. As a whole, most of the time is used to educate members on the resources available at Hamilton and lead a productive conversation on the culture we have here.

The club also enjoys the opportunity to interact with the institution to voice their concerns. Terry Martinez, Vice President and Dean of Students, came to a meeting last semester to discuss binge drinking at Hamilton and its connection to mental health.

Minds for Change will be holding another event in the near future in collaboration with the Queer Student Union. The workshop will provide a safe space for students to talk about issues they’re struggling with regarding their sexuality and how it relates to mental health. Bryant values the interactive style of workshops because it gives students the chance to come together and talk about their experiences, as opposed to simply having information lectured to you.

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