Students rally to raise awareness for mental health

By Julia Corrigan

About 200 students participated in a walk/run on the Campus Mall to raise awareness and inform the public about the seriousness of mental illness and sexual violence against women.

Several community organizations that deal with mental health treatments were present at Stomp Out Stigma on April 16. The event, hosted by Rider University’s Counseling Center, has the goal to diminish the stigma that still exists around mental illness, according to the creator.

“We’re just hoping to make people feel more comfortable that a mental illness is the same thing as a medical illness,” said Dr. Lisa Spatafore, coordinator of outreach programming and psychologist for Rider’s counseling center.

The outreach program strives to improve the emotional and social well-being of Rider students through providing mental health and wellness training for stress, grief and loss, body image, anxiety, relationship health and suicide preventions.

Local organizations such as Womanspace, New Horizons, Carrier Clinic, Robert Wood Johnson Health and Wellness, and Rider Health Center set up tables so students could have interactive opportunities to learn more about stress and mental health management.

“We invited community organizations so people can really break down the barriers to accessing treatment and show support for friends, peers and family members who might be suffering from mental illness,” said Spatafore.

The winner of the run, senior accounting major Zachary Benevento, was excited to support the cause and test out his recent motivation to get in shape.

“Being a member of Greek life, I enjoy coming out and supporting another organization’s cause and philanthropy,” said Benevento. “I’ve been trying to get in shape this semester and I thought [the race] was the ultimate test to see how I could do in a run. I guess it paid off.”

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) was also one of the organizations present at Stomp Out Stigma, offering resources and information to all the participants. A longtime volunteer for the Mercer branch of NAMI, Robert Hedden first joined the organization as a college student after experiencing a mental health issue himself.

“I got involved when I was in college because I suffer from a mood disorder and depression,” said Hedden. “I was missing classes and I didn’t know what was wrong with me, so I went to a doctor and I was finally diagnosed. I found this great organization, NAMI, that advocated awareness about mental illness and I have been involved ever since.”

Other volunteers at Stomp Out Stigma, such as Rider senior American studies major Carrie Lettiere, were eager to help eliminate the shame that still exists around mental illnesses, in addition to acquiring experience for her future career goals.

“Since I want to work in nonprofit, volunteering for these events is a great start to my career,” said Lettiere.

Stomp Out Stigma not only raised awareness for mental health, but also encouraged students to accept that having a mental illness is not something to be ashamed of.

“People who are depressed and anxious in the spring tend to feel worse about it because they think, ‘Oh, everyone must feel this way in the winter, why am I still feeling this way?’” said Spatafore.

The counseling center wants the Rider community to know that it is always open to helping those suffering from abuse, stress or mental illness.

“We really want students to access treatment and know that the counseling center exists,” said Spatafore. “I hope this event catches a lot of people and educates them.”

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