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  • Delaney Hayden

Mental Illness Awareness Week

By: Delaney Hayden, Asst. News Editor

Oct. 1 through Oct. 7 is Mental Illness Awareness Week, the public education campaign led by the National Alliance on Mental Illness dedicated to raising awareness of mental illness, which occurs annually and nationally. Since it's Mental Illness Awareness Week, The Griffin sat down with Hannah Pagano and Brandon Kottwitz, two leaders of Canisius University’s chapter of the nonprofit organization Active Minds, which is dedicated to promoting mental health via peer-to-peer dialogue and interaction. The two leaders discussed a variety of topics: their positions within the club, other resources for mental health on campus — such as the new TELUS Health student support app — and how the club and new initiatives such as TELUS are looking to help break the stigma surrounding mental illness and mental health.

Nationwide, Active Minds is present in over 1,000 schools, communities and places of work and has over 500 student-led chapters. Active Minds especially looks to promote mental health among the young adult population, which makes up a large population at Canisius as well as at many other schools throughout the nation. The programs and services offered by the organization aim to empower young adults to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, create supportive communities and, ultimately, save lives.

Canisius’s chapter of Active Minds began last year and continues to grow, having officially been recognized as a club as of May 11, 2023. Last year, Brandon Kottwitz was a co-advisor of the club with Sabrina Sosa, who has since graduated but helped to get the club up and running in its infancy. Hannah Pagano is the new outreach coordinator and graduate assistant for the Counseling Center. In this position, Hannah fills Sabrina’s previous advisor role and oversees the club while working closely with Lily Anastasi, president of the club.

Active Minds recently hosted their first event of this school year: chalk drawings in the quad. Anyone can join; the club is actively seeking new members and trying to get students to participate and become more engaged — not just in the club but also in spreading awareness of mental health around campus. Anyone is free to pop into a meeting or go to any Active Minds events around campus. The club currently meets on Thursdays at 4 p.m., but they are looking to change it to Mondays at 7 p.m. in hopes of making it more convenient for students.

About the significance of this week as Mental Illness Awareness Week, Kottwitz noted, “Just having the conversations … to break down the stigma will get students more comfortable expressing feelings and seeking resources." He continued, “Keeping that constant presence on campus [with Active Minds] will be very helpful for this week.”

Going off of Brandon’s response, Hannah shared, “It creates a community that supports people, from students who maybe struggle themselves to… other students who want to be part of the solution in creating a better space for everyone on campus: not just the students who are really struggling. It’s for everyone,” she explained. “The campus is here for you — we are a community, and we want everyone to feel that they [belong] somewhere and that there’s always someone to talk to and always somewhere you can spread your support.”

The TELUS Health student support app is another newly introduced initiative on campus that connects directly to Canisius’s Counseling Center. The app is free, confidential and accessible 24/7 for all students. The 24/7 access provides students with access to professional counselors via a call or text with no appointment is needed and is also accessible through the phone and web in addition to the app. TELUS is offered in five different languages and also provides access to virtual fitness sessions as well as self-administered assessments. If a situation presents itself in which a TELUS counselor believes someone is in need of immediate attention or help, the counselor can choose to contact campus Public Safety as well as the Counseling Center. In these ways, the app allows students to have more access to mental health resources outside of the Counseling Center’s set hours.

Mental Illness Awareness Week may only last a week, but the importance of spreading awareness and breaking the stigma surrounding mental illness and mental health is ongoing. If you or anyone you know is in need of help or would like to get involved, Pagano and Kottwitz emphasized, please do not hesitate to get involved with Active Minds, contact the Counseling Center or use the TELUS Health student support app.

You are not alone, and together we will continue to break the stigma and raise awareness.

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