Students rally against depression

On Saturday, the Dodd Community Engagement Committee and Activeminds, a mental health organization at Williams, hosted a “Breaking Records-Breaking Stigma” event in an attempt to break the world record for the largest human awareness ribbon and raise depression awareness. While the record was not broken, 150 students gathered in formation on Paresky Lawn in solidarity with those affected by depression.

Kimberly Elicker ’09 and Joshua Wilson ’11, co-chairs of Activeminds, considered the event to be a success. “We created this event to open up conversation about mental health,” they said in an e-mail interview. “We hope to send the message that dealing with depression is more common than people perceive it to be. This is especially pertinent at Williams College.”

As part of the event, a Record article published in 1993 was read to the crowd. In the article, a former student spoke of his life during his years at Williams, and how during that time he had always felt the pressure of a “failure-will-not-be-accepted social and intellectual environment.” The article went on to say that the student often felt pressure at Williams to feign success in order to be socially accepted, even when having failed.

“Although we only had 150 people turn out, we consider the event a success,” Elicker said. “Those 150 were left knowing a little more about the reality of depression.”

Those who participated in the event seemed to appreciate the cause. “The real-life story of a depressed student really gave a face to the ‘Half of Us’ campaign statistics,” said Al Hemaida ’12.

Saturday’s event was a part of the “Half of Us” campaign, sponsored by Activeminds as part of National Mental Health Awareness Month. In its 2006 National College Health Assessment, the American College Health Association found that almost half of surveyed college students had reported being so depressed that they could not function, and that more than half have thought about suicide at some point in their lives.

Activeminds will be sponsoring a range of events throughout the month, including three discussion panels covering depression, anxiety and personality disorders, a “Stomp Out Stigma” performance by Sankofa, a meet-and-greet with the Williams psychological counseling staff, and a campus-wide “Half of Us” awareness day tomorrow.

“[Depression] is the most diagnosed mental health disorder in America … and the most lethal, since 15 percent of untreated clinical depression results in suicide,” said Margi Wood, co-director of Psychological Counseling Services. “One in five Americans will develop depression at some point during their lives.” According to the World Health Organization, depression is the third most common illness after infectious diseases and heart disease.

Members of Activeminds have distributed 1000 wristbands around campus, to be worn tomorrow as part of the “Half of Us” day of awareness.