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#BellLetsTalk tweets spark conversation on mental illness

Thousands of Twitter users tweeted using the hashtag #BellLetsTalk on Jan. 28, trying to break down the stigma that surrounds mental illness. Celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres also joined in, continuing a recent trend of high-profile people speaking up about

mental illness.

Mental illnesses, particularly anxiety and depression, are common on college campuses. The National Alliance on Mental Illness [NAMI] website states “One in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have a diagnosable

mental illness.”

NAMI also found in a 2012 survey that 40 percent of students with mental illnesses did not seek help, and the number one reason why was the stigma attached to having a mental illness.

Bell, a Canadian telecommunications company, started the hashtag to encourage awareness of mental illness and promised to donate 5 cents to mental health initiatives for every tweet using it.

Social media campaigns like #BellLetsTalk aim to make it more acceptable to talk about living with mental illness, something Anthony Rivera, clinical director for the University Counseling Center, thinks walks the line between helpful and harmful.

“I think that with social media … it’s kind of a double-edged sword,” Rivera said. “The awareness I think is extremely helpful and a positive thing, [but] some of the comments and things that students may read under those announcements may be very damaging as well.”

Kelly Kozlowski, who has a doctorate in Counselor Education and Supervision, said though awareness of mental illness is important, social media are not appropriate places to discuss it.

“It should be discussed in a rational, mature way,” Kozlowski said.

Jessica Schmitt, executive director for NAMI Wood County, said talking about mental health more openly helps those living with mental illness feel less isolated.

“It allows people to talk about their experiences in life and what’s going on a little more openly,” she said.

She said the stigma surrounding mental illness is precisely what makes it so hard to open up about.

“Many people want to keep it private for a variety of reasons,” she said. “People take what you have to say differently when they know that you have a mental illness, especially when it comes to the job setting.”

The stigmatization of mental illness can be seen in how the attitude toward it in society is different than the attitude toward physical illness.

“A lot of people think of mental illness as something that you can change on your own,” Rivera said. “If you had a broken leg, would you just try to fix it on your own or would get a professional to help you? It’s the same thing with mental health.”

Schmitt said that the key to ending the stigma is education.

“People are afraid of things that they don’t know, and people really don’t know a lot about the mental health field,” she said. “When you don’t know about it, you have only what has been fed to you through media and propaganda, which has all been pretty negative for people living with mental illness. The only way to alleviate that is through educating the community on what mental illness really is.”

NAMI Wood County provides this education through support groups and classes for those with mental illnesses and their families, as well as training for organizations.

The Counseling Center also has programs for education, such as Start the Conversation, which educates people on how to approach mental illness. This program is required of every Resident Advisor and graduate student at the University, Rivera said.

He said it could also be educational to bring a celebrity speaker to campus.

“It would be awesome to be able to have a celebrity come to campus and talk about their experiences with mental health and how counseling has helped them,”

Rivera said.

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