Spectrum panel discusses mental health, grief

Cydney Hayes, Reporter

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A panel of four student speakers and an administrator discussed grief and mental health at Harris Hall on Friday, hoping the conversation will help destigmatize such topics on campus.

Spectrum Theatre Company organized the panel, titled “Seeking Help: Grief, Tragedy and the Power of Community,” focused on what students can do to take care of their minds when stress begins to take a toll.

The discussion featured Assistant Dean of Students Tony Kirchmeier and was moderated by Medill senior Matt Silverman.

Weinberg sophomore Amy Kuang, who was on the panel, sits on the executive board for NU Active Minds, a collegiate chapter of a national mental health advocacy organization. Kuang said Spectrum approached her to be a part of Friday’s panel because Spectrum’s fall show, “Alchemy of Desire/Dead-Man’s Blues,” focuses on a woman coping with her husband’s death and the mental stress that follows.

“We’re really trying to eliminate the stigma that surrounds mental health and mental illness,” Kuang said. “One of the ways that we can help is to start a conversation and inspire people to let their voices be heard and not just stay silent.”

Much of the hour-long talk was spent discussing what the culture surrounding mental health is like at Northwestern. Many panel members and attendees who participated in the talk agreed that at a competitive university like NU, the pressure can be crippling, and admitting it can be seen as a sign of weakness.

“Addressing your mental health does not equate weakness, just as mental health is not the same thing as mental illness,” Medill senior Taylor Shaw said. “Even just taking 10 minutes a day to talk to each other and not just automatically saying, ‘I’m okay,’ can make a world of difference.”

Shaw, also on the panel, is a student filmmaker who recently produced “Brave Girl,” a short documentary designed to encourage discourse on mental health.

Silverman turned the conversation toward how technology affects mental health. Kirchmeier, who spent more than a year helping create the new “NUHelp” app, brought up the benefits today’s technology can have in fostering community and support.

“There are direct and indirect benefits of technology,” Kirchmeier said. “The direct benefits are what is right at your fingertips, like how the NUHelp app gives you easy access to CAPS. An indirect benefit is how empowered people can feel just knowing they have the resources at their disposal.”

Weinberg junior Brooke Feinstein echoed Kirchmeier’s comments. Both panel participants, Feinstein and Medill junior Caroline Spiezio are co-directors of NU Listens, a student organization that offers free, confidential peer listening for any University student who needs to talk.

“Technology can be a great way to seek out support from a larger community when you don’t know exactly who to talk to face-to-face,” Feinstein said. “Whether you need to talk about your mental health or just find out where your classes are, resources like NUHelp and other social media can really make everything a lot easier.”

The show runs at Shanley Pavilion from Oct. 22-24.

Spectrum, NU Active Minds and NU Listens all plan to hold similar events throughout the year to facilitate a conversation about mental health on campus, panelists said.

Email: alisonhayes2019@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @thecydneyhayes