Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

NAMI on campus: New club works to destigmatize mental illness

Courtesy of Jessica Fossett

Posted on May 04, 2017 in Community
By USM Free Press

Julie Pike, Staff Writer

Working alongside faculty members at the Recovery Oriented Campus Center (ROCC), a sophomore nursing student, Jessica Fossett, is in the process of bringing a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) club to USM.

NAMI is a nationwide advocacy group that represents individuals and families who have been affected by mental health issues. NAMI already has an established presence in Maine, with headquarters in Augusta and training sessions and events around the state.

No college campus in Maine currently has a NAMI club. Fossett intends to change that. NAMI clubs work to end the stigma that makes it hard for students to talk about mental health and get the help they need.

The NAMI club will be housed in the ROCC, but it will be its own student-run club. Fossett has been getting help from Anna Gardner, the Collegiate Recovery Program Coordinator and clinical counselor from the ROCC.

“We are happy to have the club here at the ROCC and to support Jess and the club in any way that we can,” said Gardner. “It ties into exactly what we are here for, which is students supporting other students with recovery from substance use disorders, mental health disorders and behavioral concerns.”

Fossett went to Gardner with her idea for the club, which she got from a flyer for a NAMI training session she saw at a local hospital she works at. While looking up more information about the organization, Fossett saw that they had a NAMI club on campus, which is more focused towards students in college.

“Different students have their own recovery, their own journey, and how we support each other around that doesn’t have to be in the same way” said Gardner. “NAMI broadens the awareness of recovery from mental health disorders, rather than just recovery from substance use disorders.”

The ROCC has been affiliated with other clubs on campus, including Yesplus, which is a group that provides students with ways to destress, meet new people and volunteer. The group also offered support groups for mental health recovery. The NAMI club will be different because it will tie in support with advocacy and awareness for mental health.

The NAMI official website states that “1 in 5 students face a mental health condition, and nearly three-quarters of mental health conditions emerge by age 24, so many college students are facing mental health concerns for the first time.”

Fossett is an advocate for students to feel comfortable  talking about their experiences with mental illness. She co-facilitates the Eat Your Art Out weekly event at the ROCC. In her group, they work on different arts and crafts and focus on general mental wellness, as well as food and eating disorders.

Students that she works with in her group mention how they get the feeling that mental illness is not something okay to talk about, but they feel better when they are able to do so in a supportive environment.

“For me it was hard to come out as someone who was active at the ROCC because of the fear of how people would view that. I think the more people that join in, the more people will feel comfortable,” Gardner said. “It’s these kind of conversations that [are] going to keep the effort of destigmatizing mental illness going.”

Fossett began working on starting the club this semester, and she received approval for the club at the student senate meeting last week on Friday, April 21. The next step, Gardner said, is to become officially affiliated with NAMI.

Fossett plans to start off the club next semester with the group attending one of the many NAMIWalks that are held across the country. The walk in Maine Fossett hopes the club can attend is on Sept. 24 at the Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse in South Portland. It is a 5k walk that raises awareness and funds for NAMI.

Fossett intends to have the club run off of the interests of the students who join, which could include anti-stigma and awareness campaigns or creating more support and conversations for students. She wants to bring in speakers and include educational opportunities for students, such as attending the NAMI training sessions that are hosted in the area.

Currently the NAMI club has been meeting every Monday, and she plans to continue having weekly meetings next year.

“The weekly meetings are a good way to support each other,” she said, “and also to make a game plan of how to get different departments of the school working together.”

For the end of the spring semester, Fossett is focused on getting the word out about the NAMI club, as well as trying to spark interest among students. She has already found some students who want to join.

“This club is an opportunity for people who are struggling themselves, or know people who are struggling with mental illness or substance use disorders,” Fossett said. “As well [as] people who are interested in learning more about policy, activism and making a difference.”

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