By Amar Kapadia
Rider’s Counseling Center, Outreach, raised awareness of the social stigmas commonly associated with mental illnesses through Stomp Out Stigma, an annual event that was held at the campus mall on Thursday.
According to Rose Soriero, a counselor and the Outreach Coordinator at Rider’s Lawrenceville campus counseling center, more than 100 campus community members attended Stomp Out Stigma.
Outreach hosted the Stomp Out Stigma run/walk, which is performed around the perimeter of the campus mall as a way to raise awareness of mental health and wellness on campus, Soriero said.
“I was thrilled with the response from the campus community,” Soriero said. “It was the biggest walk we’ve had in recent years. It’s great that we were able to get the message out about the stigmas associated with mental illnesses.”
Junior Michael Gershon was very pleased with the event as a whole.
“The walk was for a really good cause, so I was more than happy to participate,” he said. “It was a nice day and the walk allowed me to get some good exercise.”
According to the Stomp Out Stigma website, the event strives to raise awareness that the stigma associated with mental illness is one of the greatest barriers that keeps people from seeking help for their illness.
Traditionally, families put together teams in honor of someone they knew who has committed suicide, school groups put teams together for friends who didn’t win their battles with mental illness or hospitals put teams together for their patients. At Rider, 114 individuals and many campus groups including residence halls, a freshman seminar class and the Leadership Development Program pre-registered for the walk. Additionally, many students signed up to participate the day of the event, Soriero confirmed.
“What we at Outreach have found over the years is that the students respond to interactive activities,” Soriero said. “We have hosted multiple speakers over the years, but none have been as successful as events such as Stomp Out Stigma and our Pet Therapy Day; we feel these events best reach students and attract their participation.”
The run/walk included students from many groups on campus, said Chelsea Trump, member of the Outreach team.
“We’ve reached out to pretty much all the groups on campus and they were really excited about the event,” she said. “Women’s Center and the Association of Commuting Students, for example, formed groups and walked together.”
“We also had many outside organizations participate in Stomp Out Stigma,” Trump said. “The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) comes to the event every year; they are one of the main supporters of Stomp Out Stigma and Rider’s Outreach team.”
“We’ve traditionally been part of the run/walk in the past and we have a collaborative relationship with the counseling center here at Rider,” said Anne Renee Hansard, program director for the Mercer County chapter of NAMI. “We’re here because we are raising awareness for people and families that suffer from mental illness and we are relieving the stigma.”
According to Hansard, stigma is the reason people don’t talk about what’s going on in regards to mental illnesses.
“It’s a prevalent issue on college campuses because people are afraid that they might get some sort of punitive measures like having to drop out of school if they’re experiencing symptoms,” she said. “But what we want people to know is that it’s common, that depression in college students is common and other types of mental illnesses often come out during the college years.”
Other outside groups that were in attendance included the Princeton Fitness and Wellness Center and HiTop, an organization that provides health services and support programs to adolescents in New Jersey. They gave out mental health awareness-related information to campus community members who stopped to check out the event.
In addition to hosting events such as Stomp Out Stigma, Outreach provides counseling and mental health referrals, among other services.
The Outreach team works to provide Rider with programs, events and information related to mental health and wellness. It presents lectures, workshops and programs to students on a wide variety of topics. The staff is highly trained in addressing the areas of personal growth, academic performance enhancement, mental health and wellness.
While the run may be about the stigma of mental illness, Soriero explains that Outreach also counsels “students on campus who are struggling with issues that may impact their academic success.”
Trump stressed the importance of the light the event sheds on the misinterpretations many people may have about mental illnesses.
“Mental illness can be an array of things,” she said. “It can be depression, anxiety, bipolar [disorder] or schizophrenia, to name a few, and there’s always a stigma associated with them.”
Soriero explained that correcting misinterpretations about these disorders is what Outreach is trying to achieve. The counseling staff emphasized that it does not counsel the mentally ill; their focus is on mental health and wellness.
“If you are struggling with an issue that is impacting your success,” Soriero said, “then this is a place that you can come and talk about it.”
“I love the services the counseling center offers,” said sophomore Tiffany Morales. “I feel that college students need a way to relieve the stresses and complications associated with college life. Stomp Out Stigma is a really great way to promote the fact that having a mental issue and needing someone to talk to is ok.”
Additional reporting by Katie Zeck