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September 29, 2023

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Student Wellness Network hosts week of events to raise awareness of mental illness


Kristin Baumgardner instructs a yoga class Tuesday night in the Student Recreation Center as part of National Eating Disorders Week.

For Caroline Keller, National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is about more than raising awareness; it’s about helping people understand what having a mental illness or eating disorder is like.

“I want to help people who don’t experience those kinds of things understand what it’s like for someone to go through it,” Keller said.

Keller doesn’t want to help people realize other’s experiences just because she is the president of the Student Wellness Network, but also because she has experience with an eating disorder herself.

Keller’s disordered eating began with anxiety and escalated until she began using food as a coping method by overeating and binging, she said.

Keller got help and now she wants to help other people who have an eating disorder “realize it’s not just them and they’re not alone,” Keller said.

She also wants to help remove the stigma that surrounds eating disorders and mental illness.

“Mental illness is one of the topics that’s harder to get students to come talk about,” Keller said.

The topic may be harder to attract students to because students may worry others will think they have a mental illness or know someone with one if they attend these events, she said.

Removing the stigma is one of the reasons SWN is hosting the week of events, Keller said.

“We’re trying to get them to talk about it in an open, non-judgmental way,” she said.

The group is encouraging students to talk about mental illness and remove the stigma associated with them through events such as yoga, a panel discussion and offering information in the Union, said Faith Yingling, director of Wellness at the University and adviser of SWN.

“I just think it’s good to bring awareness to a variety of different issues,” Yingling said. “I think it’s so much more than that, it’s all the other facets that go into what can lead to eating disorders and what can contribute to eating disorders.”

There are a variety of themes the group tries to encompass in the week, Yingling said.

“[We want to show] that everybody, B-O-D-Y, is beautiful,” Yingling said. “We just want to promote that and help people realize, to really take a look at themselves and help view others in that way.”

The group began the week of raising awareness, and will end by standing at the Union tables with information about mental illness and eating disorders, said junior Julia Molnar, secretary of SWN.

“It was just to put ourselves out there and to make people more aware of what this week represents,” Molnar said.

The group is passing out bracelets that look like measuring tape and include a ribbon that reads “If you can accept the size of your wrist, you should be able to accept the size of your body,” Molnar said.

They hand out the bracelets and encourage students to “change the way you see and not how you look,” she said.

Students who stop by the table will also be offered a sticky note to write a positive message as part of Operation Beautiful, Molnar said.

Operation Beautiful is a campaign where people post anonymous notes in places for others to find, Yingling said.

SWN members are participating by handing out notes to students who come by the Union table and also posting them themselves, Molnar said.

The organization also hosted Body Awareness Yoga on Tuesday night and plans to host a panel discussion on mental health called Erase the Stigma on Wednesday night.

Keller will be one of the panelists at Erase the Stigma, and this will be her third year participating.

“I think one of my biggest hopes is to reach out to someone who is suffering from a mental illness and not getting help for it,” Keller said. “They may assume it’s the normal college experience, I want to help them get resources, get help and feel better.”

The panelists will include professionals as well as two other students with experience with mental illness or eating disorders. It will be hosted Wednesday at 8 p.m. in 314 Union.

“It’s trying to get them to talk about [eating disorders and mental illness] in an open, non-judgmental way,” Keller said.

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