Ateret Sultan-Reisler, a sophomore psychology major, helped organize the Mental Health Open Mic event as part of a Public Leadership program.
She wanted to focus not only on the number of people on campus who have mental illnesses, but on the personal level of the issue, being “there’s a huge stigma and people don’t even feel like they can speak to their close friends and family about it.”
After months of planning, the event finally came to fruition at The Board and Brew, a popular restaurant on Baltimore Avenue. where customers sit for hours playing board games and ordering food. Upon entering the restaurant Sunday night, visitors were greeted by Maddy Garey, a sophomore English and history major, who helped organize the event.
Next to her stood a large, foam board plastered with a technicolor swarm of paper butterflies. On these butterflies, speakers and listeners were invited to write a sentence about their relationship with mental illness.
More than 30 people attended the event, filling nearly every seat in the venue. They sat with eager faces and listened as students and individuals from around the area portrayed through poetry, music or monologue their own experience with mental illness.
However, some of the performers do not like the term mental illness or have not established their relationship with it yet. Senior math major Jake Crouse performed a poem about bipolar disorder. At a pivotal moment in the poem, he stretched out a quivering arm in a gesture representing self-mutilation.
“It’s hard for me to distinguish it [mental illness] as anything separate from anything else,” he said. “My father is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, so that‘s what a lot of our childhood was, just living with that and internalizing a lot of that.”
He said he is uncomfortable with the term mental illness because he is not quite sure what it means to him yet.
Other speakers talked about their experiences with bipolar disorder, ADHD, depression, friends who had been murdered, parental abuse, domestic violence and medication.
Emily Posey, a fifth year mechanical engineering major, brought her assistance dog Rowan who she has for panic and bipolar disorders. She said “dogs can be trained to notice slight changes in vital signs, like heart rate and body temp. Medical alert dogs warn their owners of seizures, low/high blood sugar, etc. A similar concept can be applied to mental illness.”
Though the event featured many different art forms and backgrounds, there seemed to be a consensus: first, many people who have a mental illness feel alone; second, it does not have to be this way.
Featured Photo Credit: The audience watches students perform poems and deliver monologues about their experiences with mental health throughout the night. The audience was packed, and filled almost every seat available at the Board and Brew. (Julia Lerner/Bloc Reporter)
Raye Weigel is a sophomore multiplatform journalism and English major and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.