Permanent standing granted to Mental Health Committee

As of this month the Mental Health Committee (MHC) – which has been convening since September on an ad hoc basis – has been recognized as an official committee with permanent standing and has established an official route for accruing members annually. This semester, the committee has been responsible for organizing the open mic event You Are Not Alone, part of a four-day series of events for Break the Silence Week in October (“You Are Not Alone sparks conversation about mental health,” Nov. 2). The committee is now planning additional programming to take place during Winter Study and the spring semester.

According to College Council (CC) co-president and MHC co-chair Francesca Barrett ’12, much of the reasoning behind institutionalizing the MHC derives from the success of You Are Not Alone. Barrett said that the MHC will be discussing a follow-up event in the spring semester, which would again feature student speakers on different mental health issues and another open mic session.

Dean Bolton attested to the event as establishing a strong launching point for further MHC activity. “I am very happy with the work this group has already done on campus in putting together You Are Not Alone,” Bolton said. “I think the focused attention to questions of well-being and mental health is very welcome and needed. The committee can, itself, continue to play a crucial role in outreach and maintaining the sense of openness and support that started with You Are Not Alone.”

Other projects the MHC is working on include discussions with Psychological Counseling Services about expanding their services to students who are in Williamstown over the summer, launching a revamped poster campaign against the concept of effortless perfection and introducing a peer counselling training program during Winter Study called Ephs with Ears.

Barrett said that the MHC is also looking at bringing Elizabeth Swados, a playwright whose work addresses mental health issues, to campus to speak; a performance of one of her plays is also a possible future goal. Swados’s work grew out of perceived need at New York University, where it is performed at orientation programs.

Matthew Piltch ’12 co-chairs the MHC with Barrett, which has seven members, including representatives from Peer Health, Active Minds and CC. Members who are going abroad next semester will select their replacements.

Going forward, part of its status as an official committee means that all students will be able to apply to serve on MCH when the CC co-presidents e-mail the student body in March regarding opportunities to participate on committees such as the Committee on Undergraduate Life and the Committee on Diversity and Community. The CC Appointments Committee will choose three to four students to serve, and the remaining members will consist of representatives from Peer Health, Active Minds, Minority Coalition and likely the Rape and Sexual Assault Network, as well as a CC representative.

“We’ve discovered this year that interdisciplinary groups work much better together than individual groups themselves,” Barrett said, explaining why the MHC will look to draw from a variety of campus groups.

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