Feature Leadership Real. Strong. Women. Service

Changing the Conversation About Mental Health

By Anjali Dhawan (Lambda Nu, Northeastern University)

Trigger Warning: Mental illness, suicide   

As an Alpha Chi, I believe in always being real and strong, as our motto encourages us to be. I carry this through my everyday life and always try to uphold this value. However, sometimes being strong and being real are difficult to balance, especially when struggling with mental health.

Recently, the conversation around mental health has grown, but it still faces a significant barrier. Despite a better clinical and social understanding of depression, anxiety and mental health in general, the stigma around mental health and mental illness can be tough to break. Today’s culture is so rooted in finding value in productivity, achievements and individual success that dealing with mental health is easy to see as a weakness, rather than a normal part of life. In addition, when you are close to someone struggling with mental health, sometimes the “easy” option can be brushing off symptoms or warning signs as negative qualities, instead of acknowledging them, embracing them and helping a person. At the end of the day, these attitudes are unhelpful at best and destructive at worst, leading to all kinds of negative outcomes.

Without help, these struggles can quickly spiral into destructive – and fatal – outcomes, such as suicide. At my high school, a pattern of suicides left my community in shock. People were distressed, uncomfortable and confused. How could so many kids from a seemingly strong community feel so helpless and desperate that they took their own lives? How could nobody have noticed? It all boiled down to one simple answer: we simply didn’t talk about these things. Teachers didn’t know their students personally. Parents weren’t comfortable having difficult conversations about mental health. Students didn’t even understand mental illness, let alone want to bring it up with their friends.

Thus, Project Silence No More (or, as we call it, PSNM) was born, a small nonprofit in my hometown in Iowa “dedicated to normalizing the conversation around mental health, depression and suicide.” Knowing the organization and the cause from a personal perspective, I decided I had to join the team and interned for several months. We secured community funding for a number of projects to begin making a change, including a scholarship, a social media campaign and an awareness concert. As PSNM’s momentum within the community grew, so did my role in the organization, and I became a member of the executive board.

With this position, I started to oversee the direction of PSNM and determine how we could best support those in our community. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we worried about our ability to effectively help our community but quickly realized that our community needed support more now than ever. We found creative ways to support mental health, including providing food security to families in need and doubling our scholarship funding to help more students pursuing the mental health field. We ended our summer with a virtual edition of our annual concert, featuring local speakers and performers, and an LGBTQ+ mental health panel discussion with One Iowa, a statewide organization to support equality for LGBTQ+ Iowans.

Now, PSNM is at a point where we have a lot of potential to grow our mission and impact. As the current president, I plan to lead the organization in expanding into more communities within our state and find ways to help groups with more specific needs. Barriers to mental health and well-being vary greatly – whether it’s access to healthcare, cultural pressures or the added burden of discrimination – so we plan to partner with local cultural groups, LGBTQ+ organizations, disability resource groups, food pantries and other organizations to more effectively target issues faced by these different communities. In doing so, PSNM will use its resources and mission to normalize the conversation around mental health on a much greater scale.

One of the most important parts of this whole experience is that my Alpha Chi sisters are always there to support me in my work. Whether it’s tuning into virtual events, helping out with fundraising or even just starting conversations about mental health itself, their dedication to leadership and advocacy is truly inspiring.

For all of my sisters out there struggling with their mental health, know that there are other Alpha Chis on a similar journey. If anyone is passionate about this cause, I encourage you to search for local organizations or student advocacy groups to learn more about how you can help. And to the Alpha Chis in Iowa, it would be a privilege for PSNM to welcome you to our team.

Anjali Dhawan is a second-year business student at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. She joined Alpha Chi Omega at the beginning of her first semester on campus and now serves as the assistant vice president recruitment. She is originally from Iowa, which is where PNSM operates.

To learn more about the mental health resources and education offered by Alpha Chi Omega and our national partners, visit the page on our website.

Should you or a friend need to talk to someone, text “START” to 741-741 or call 800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with someone from the National Suicide Prevention Hotline for emotional support.

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