Mental Health Awareness Week

Last week I sat down with Maria McQuade, Vice President of membership development for CNU’s Panhellenic, to talk about the Mental Health Awareness week Panhellenic is doing with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). As we sat together in the Panhellenic office, Maria was making buttons (on a button making machine, which I didn't even know was a thing) to hand out in the upcoming week. Maria was ecstatic and full of energy the whole time we talked about Mental Health Awareness week, and it’s clear how much this event means to her and how important it is.

Before I dive into the components of Mental Health Awareness week, let me first give a little background on Panhellenic for those who aren’t quite familiar with it (like myself, before talking to Maria): Panhellenic is like an umbrella organization for CNU’s 7 social sororities. Panhellenic as a whole is above the sororities, overseeing all of them. Panhellenic creates programs for and works with all 7 of CNU’s social sororities and aims to bring all of the sororities together to have a common purpose and bridge the gaps between the different sororities (especially with mental health week). For CNU, the Panhellenic President focuses on the Women’s Leadership Summit in the fall, the VP Recruitment organizes and runs formal recruitment for all 7, External Relations focuses on PR and social media, the VP of Membership Development (Maria’s position) focuses on mental health, sexual assault, and diversity, the VP of Internal Affairs works with delegates from each sorority, and the VP of Signature Events works on promoting circle of sisterhood and holds an event where ladies come and write on a circle circle what they do as empowered woman and put it on a banner. Circle of Sisterhood is Panhellenic’s philanthropy. Circle of Sisterhood creates schools in third world countries to support women’s education, a lot of times for girls who don’t have the opportunity to go to school.

“To me, Panhellenic is women empowering other women through leadership, scholarship, and knowledge. It’s a beautiful thing to see women empowering other women,” says Maria, “as a woman, seeing other women in places of leadership inspires me to step up and become a leader as well.”

But, it’s not just about sorority women. It’s about all of us. Panhellenic is aiming to include all women on campus, not just those who are affiliated with Greek Life. The week is interactive, with hashtags anyone can post and an event anyone is welcome (and encouraged) to attend. Mental Health Awareness week is 4/9-4/13 and consists of 4 important components: tabling, the social media campaigns, green out day, and Breaking the Silence (the main event for this week).

Maria and her fellow ladies will be tabling everyday this week from 11-1 in the DSU, passing out the buttons I watched her make, ribbons, and stickers (all for free) to promote their week.

The social media campaign is panhellenic trying to focus on an overall theme. They met with all PR chairs for all of the different sororities and coordinated to make sure everyone is displaying same message on each day. Maria says this is because a lot of people follow one or two sororities but not necessarily Panhellenic on social media, so by displaying the same message throughout all or organizations, people should get the message Panhellenic is trying to convey. The importance is spreading the word of mental health week, and the themes of each day.

There are different hashtags for everyday:

  • Monday (4/9): #whymentalhealthmatters
  • Tuesday (4/10):  #iam #iamasororitywoman
  • Wednesday (4/11): #breakingthesilence
  • Thursday (4/12):  #westandtogether
  • Friday (4/13): #speakingout

All of the posts for the week are going to be "Humans of New York" style, which means there won’t just be the hashtag caption but also a story to go along with it, and the organizations can still make them anonymous if they want to.

Maria says the goal for Tuesday (#Iam / #Iamasororitywoman) is to break the stigma of what a sorority woman “stereotypically” is: “there is this stereotype that sorority women are perfect and always have their stuff together. But you don’t have to conform to those stereotypes. You can be a Panhellenic Woman who also struggles with mental health. That in itself is a very powerful thing.”

Wednesday (#breakingthesilence) is the day of Panhellenic’s big Mental Health Awareness Week event, Breaking the Silence. There are two sessions for the event, 6-7:30 and 8-9:30 in Freeman 201. Breaking the Silence will consist of 6 anonymous mental health testimonials that different girls from different organizations have submitted. The purpose is to realize we all go through very similar things, though in separate organizations, and have things in common. “The testimonials will remain anonymous because don’t want to have any association with certain organizations and certain diseases. There will be 6 testimonials at the event, with topics such as OCD, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders,” Maria informed me. “It was eye opening to read all of the testimonials. It’s really emotional, seeing the strength in all of these women, it’s very inspiring. Breaking the Silence means we’re not staying silent about our experiences anymore.”

Thursday (#westandtogether) is Maria’s favorite hashtag of the week: “The theme is women standing together, not backing down. Because one of the big things you hear about with becoming affiliated is girls working towards finding a support system, and I found that through Panhellenic because these women may be in different organizations, but they still support girls inside and outside of their respectable organizations.”

Friday (#Greenoutday) is because the color for mental health awareness is green. Make sure to wear some type of green on Friday in support!

Throughout the week, Maria wants to focus on the fact that you don’t have to have a mental illness to care about mental health; it’s an everyday thing. Mental health is not just mental illness. Stress is an everyday thing. As college students, we deal with mental health on an everyday basis, and it needs to be known that everyone deals with it everyday. When someone asks “How are you?” you don’t have to always pretend to be okay. It’s alright to be overwhelmed, and it’s definitely okay to not always be okay!

Maria is really excited; she says this whole event feels really surreal to her because she presented this week as an idea when she was applying to be on the Panhellenic Executive Board, and now she’s actually doing and planning it. If it goes well, she hopes for it to be an annual thing, and I think that would be an amazing thing for us to have on campus yearly. The overall message is breaking stereotypes, not staying silent anymore, and spreading awareness.

With finals coming up, and the stress of the year on our shoulders, it is so extremely important for us to talk about mental health awareness and have this week and the Breaking the Silence event.