A note on mental health awareness


Molly Ashline / The Carolinian

Molly Ashline
    Staff Writer

A striking green mailbox in the lobby of the Elliot University Center (EUC) may have intrigued people with its quirky, out-of-place-ness, but the reason for the mailbox reflects a larger issue that is embedded within the fabric of society.

The Mental Note Project is part of the Introduction to Socially Engaged Art class in the Lloyd International Honors College. Other projects in the class focus on timely warnings, language barriers and ideas about home, but the Mental Note Project’s concentration was mental health awareness.

Mental Note encouraged passersby to write a letter to people suffering from a mental health disorder.

The letters could then be sealed in envelopes and dropped in the green mailbox (green is the color of mental health awareness advocacy), after which the letters will be screened and posted on Mental Note’s Facebook page. Because after all, who doesn’t like getting a thoughtful letter?

The project’s student contact and one of its organizers, Madison Shelton, shared her thoughts with the Carolinian about mental illness and the project.

“I think a major part of the mission to destigmatize mental illness and bring awareness to mental health, is the idea of creating a sense of normalcy around the topic,” said Shelton.

Shelton is an enamoring student with a friendly disposition, and she has Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder. She may not “look” like she suffers from a mental health disorder, and that is Shelton’s point.

“To me, the biggest misconceptions are probably that mental illness only refers to severe mental illnesses and that all individuals with mental illness are violent or out of control.  Mental illness is an umbrella term, which can refer to any range of mental issues and their varying degrees of severity,” she explained.

Indeed, the Mental Note Project included pamphlets on anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia.

The pamphlets were donated by the Wellness Center, and they demonstrate Shelton’s point about the wide variety of mental illness.

When reading through these pamphlets, you could see how people in the mental health field and those who live with mental illness become frustrated when people claim their transient frustrations and quirks as mental conditions.

The phrases, “I feel really depressed today,” or “I’m so OCD,” are commonplace insults to those who have these conditions.

In reality, those diagnosed with depression or OCD have to live with conditions that often interfere with their relationships and daily lives, and may require medication, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It is not the same as arranging your clothes by color, or feeling blue for a day.

Still, Mental Note attempts to combat misconceptions through interaction with the community instead of ridicule of the ignorant.

“I think an important aspect of this project is that we are not asking only for those who have personally been diagnosed with mental illness to write the letters, but that we are asking everyone in the university community,” said Shelton.

She went on to explain her hopes for the future implications of the project.

“A significant social change cannot be made without involving all parties and coming together as a whole. Mental Note will hopefully spark a sense of community at UNCG and also provide a platform for people to openly discuss mental health,” she said.

But opening up the project to the public has its risks, especially when such a sensitive topic like mental illness is at hand.

Shelton explained that all the letters—estimated at around eighty in total—would be screened for triggers and other inflammatory language.

“We will most likely not be sharing any letters that glorify or romanticize mental illness, ones that encourage self or other harm, or ones that have strong potential to be triggers for readers,” she said.

After the letters are posted to Facebook, Shelton hopes that people will comment on them and start a greater conversation about mental health awareness.

Shelton coordinated the project with students Stephanie Sacks, Julie Sohn and Ruby Avato, as well as Sanctuary House and the Wellness Center.

Categories: Features, Human Interest, Uncategorized

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