Over the past couple weeks, Swatties may have noticed the drop boxes, personal story board, flyers, and chalkings dotting campus in preparation for the “We’re All Mad Here” discussion held this past Monday. The talk, sponsored by campus peer counseling group Speak 2 Swatties, was formatted as an open forum which coordinators Melissa Cruz ’10 and Megan Jeffreys ’10 hoped would “raise awareness about mental health, or a lack thereof, at Swarthmore.”
The idea of “We’re All Mad Here” was born out of a need to openly broach the often stigmatized subject of mental health issues on campus. Jeffreys explains that “the event is essentially a forum to talk about experiences with mental health and how Swarthmore has made it better or worse. Students’ stories around these issues aren’t being heard indicating that there is a stigma there.” Cruz agreed and was especially surprised by the complete lack of conversation surrounding psychological wellness, saying that she “couldn’t believe this one crucial issue of mental health concerns has been ignored and neglected for so long.”
“At Swarthmore,” Jeffreys notes, “students are considered to be more than students, so it’s as though you can never show any weakness.” Being able to openly construct a narrative in a safe, judgment-free space, both Cruz and Jeffreys claim, can be an additional step up in the recovery process and is also liberating for those who struggle to be heard on campus. So, Speak 2 Swatties got down to work, setting up request boxes around campus before break and posting a board for anonymous posts in Shane Lounge.
The week before the event also featured an open chalking session for those students “coming out” with their frustrations towards the silence around mental health issues. The chalkings ranged from calls for allies to stand up to questions about stigmas attached to certain illnesses to riffs from the Gnarls Barkley single “Crazy”.
Cruz repeatedly stressed the importance of having “students actually share experiences, which can be so powerful on many levels. You don’t have to talk about an issue as an isolated event.” In hosting a free-form “We’re All Mad Here” forum, Cruz hopes to help all students alike aim more towards awareness, understanding, and empathy.
The “We’re All Mad Here” discussion itself, moderated by CAPS director Dr David Ramirez, began with introductions, basic ground rules, and personal experiences with mental illness from three students. The floor was then completely open to discussion within the forum. Discussion topics covered ranged far and wide from how to ally to the misery poker atmosphere on campus to attitudes towards medication to general mental health adjustment in college life. The night ended with suggestions for what both Speak 2 Swatties and CAPS could possibly do to better advocate and raise awareness of mental health issues on campus.
Over the next year, Speak 2 Swatties hopes to further introduce the group’s role on campus as well as host several, smaller, more specific mental health advocacy events and campaigns. Speak 2 Swatties will, of course, continue their open hours throughout the year. Over 1/3 of the campus takes advantage of CAPS, and still, not all of the student body is getting the help they need. Jefferys points out that peer counselors, though not experts, can be friendly student resources for those seeking to explore their own narratives personally.
The Peer Counseling Center, located in Upper Tarble 308 and 312, will continue regular open hours Mondays through Thursdays from 9 – 11 PM and Saturday/Sundays from 2 – 4 PM. As always, any and all conversations will remain completely confidential.