Students discuss experiences with mental health at annual panel


Sean Su/Daily Senior Staffer

Four Northwestern students speak about their experiences with mental illnesses at a panel held by NU Active Minds. The annual event aimed to destigmatize mental illness for students who may be afraid to seek help, the group’s president Amanda Meyer said.

Emily Chin, Reporter

McCormick senior Camaria Lehman took a medical leave of absence from Northwestern for mental illness in her junior year, but all of her friends thought it was because of physical illness. Lehman told an audience Wednesday during the fourth annual STIGMA panel that she has attempted suicide five times.

The panel, hosted by NU Active Minds, was moderated by psychology Prof. Robin Nusslock and featured four NU students who have been affected by mental illnesses. They shared their personal stories, then answered questions from the audience of more than 30 people in Harris Hall.

Communication junior John Mederich spoke on the panel. He said he suffered from depression and struggled with his sexuality in high school and still deals with mental health problems sometimes. Like Lehman, the panel was the first time he had shared his story with the public.

“It was a little bit nerve-racking at first but ultimately therapeutic, especially knowing that so many people in the room could identify,” Mederich said after the event.

Amanda Meyer, co-president of NU Active Minds, said two-thirds of college students who need help with a mental illness don’t receive it because of the stigma associated with it.

“Students don’t receive help because they’re scared of how their peers would view them,” the Weinberg senior told The Daily. “They’re scared they’re the only ones going through this. They don’t want to be alone.”

Meyer believes panels such as the STIGMA panel make a difference because they promote campus conversations about mental health, which is something a lot of people think should not be talked about, she said.

“When people who have had serious experiences talk about what they’ve gone through … that tells people who might be in the audience who are listening, ‘I’m not the only one feeling this way. That person feels this way too,’” she said.

Nusslock said he appreciated the panelists’ honesty and their emphasis that students struggling with mental health should not feel inadequate.

“I think that was a theme. It’s OK to be who you are, and the world will meet you where you’re at,” he said after the event.

Nusslock also said mental illness may not always be negative, describing it as “journeying to the frontiers of the human mind.”

Notable people such as Ludwig van Beethoven, Sylvia Plath, Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway and Abraham Lincoln all suffered from some sort of mental illness, yet still did remarkable things, he said.

Lehman told the panel her mental illness was the “biggest blessing” that ever happened to her.

“Finding the beauty in something so scary and accepting what it is that I am and not letting it define me, but knowing it’s there and that there’s these wonderful people that can really help change what it looks like every day is an amazing thing,” she said.

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