Among the diverse faces and equally diverse stories told, all the seats of UNCG’s Office of Intercultural Engagement (OIE) were comfortably filled for the panel held on the night of Oct. 24. This particular panel was held by Kaleidoscope, a peer education program at the university, whose purpose is simple, yet unmistakably important: to spread understanding of diversity, equity and social justice through open and honest dialogue between attendees.
The topic at hand for this panel in particular was mental health, and more specifically the variability that lies in not only each individual’s own mental health, but also the perceptions of mental health from those on the outside.
The two facilitators for the discussion, or ‘scopes’ as they are called, opened with what many would consider a deceptively simple question: “What is mental health?” The answers were not unanimous at first, and there was some conflation between mental health and mental illness. Eventually, the group did come to a consensus that ultimately, one’s mental health is in what one might call a state of ‘equilibrium,’ assuming that they are healthy. It is a balancing act, one that has constant wrenches thrown into the mix: stress, mental illness and the intermingling of the two.
The focal point of the discussion, and the tie-in for the panel’s actual title “The Faces of Mental Health,” was the small group assessments of pictures we were given of several celebrities, and other high-profile individuals. The point was to pass judgment and make assumptions solely based on the face we were presented with regarding their identity, as well as their own personal internal struggles.
After discussing the assumptions in the small group setting, everyone flipped over their assigned person’s portrait, and were treated to a dose of the reality behind that person’s identity and their struggles regarding mental health.
My group, who had randomly been given the picture of a young, non-binary model to base our assertions on, were floored to learn that this seemingly well-put-together person did, in fact, suffer from a major depressive disorder as well as severe anxiety, a thing that we scarcely even thought to touch on.
There were several other recognizable faces among the people some other groups were presented with: Kid Cudi and Demi Lovato being notable individuals, both of whom have openly worn their personal issues on their sleeves for a time. Yet, without that pre-established familiarity, I doubt that those things would so readily come to mind.
That is the lesson that was meant to be learned at this panel, that there is no one ‘face’ of mental health, or of mental illness, but instead many individual faces. Faces not to be assumed, but understood, because of the great variability that exists in all aspects of personhood.
There are many other opportunities afforded by UNCG’s OIE, and as an extension of that, Kaleidoscope, via additional panels on a wide variety of subject matter.