'Breaking The Silence' Around Mental Health

Events encourage university community to make healthy minds a priority.

PB PostSecret
Program Board Service Chair Austin Caldwell holds up the box where students submitted their secrets to kick off the "Breaking the Silence"campaign on Kogan Plaza on Wednesday. The PostSecretU event is one of three this month in support of mental health.
September 10, 2014

By Brittney Dunkins

George Washington University students and others from across the U.S. reveal arresting, heartwarming and sometimes encouraging secrets through PostSecretU—a community art project developed by mental health nonprofit organization Active Minds that creates a safe space for college-age students to express their feelings and experiences.

They submit the revelations anonymously, a protection offered to encourage participation. The results are often like this one from a student outside of the GW campus:

“I look at pictures on Facebook just to see what I wasn’t invited to.”

Through this program—founded in 2004 as PostSecret.com by Germantown, Md., native Frank Warren—students submit their private thoughts on postcards that are displayed on campus. The result, organizers hope, is that the shared feelings spark conversations on mental health issues.

The GW Program Board harnessed the simple premise on Wednesday to launch “Breaking the Silence,” a mental health awareness campaign.

“When students feel less alone in their secrets they are more likely to be open about their authentic thoughts and feelings,” said GW senior and PB Executive Chair Liz Moses. “The hope is that participants will discover that they are not as alone as they feared, and that common issues and themes, especially those related to mental health, will subsequently be addressed.”

Students submitted their postcards at the kick-off event, held between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Kogan Plaza. Members of the Program Board will continue to collect postcards from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. through Sept. 19 in residence halls and at the PB office in room 424 of the Marvin Center.

The postcards will be displayed in the Marvin Center. Program Board will announce an exact location in the coming weeks.  

Though the “Breaking the Silence” campaign is focused on overall mental health, the kickoff event is one of thousands nationwide that coincide with World Suicide Prevention Day, an observance started in 2003 by the International Association for Suicide Prevention and the World Health Organization.

According to American College Health Association’s fall 2013 National College Health Assessment 51 percent of college students who were surveyed experienced “overwhelming anxiety” and nearly 31 percent felt “so depressed it was difficult to function” Nearly 7.5 percent of those surveyed seriously considered suicide within the last year.

Program Board will continue the campaign on Sept. 20 at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s annual “Out of the Darkness” walk on the National Mall. Students can sign up online for the GW team. The D.C. city team has raised nearly $82,000 to date.

"For students who may not feel comfortable making that walk to the UCC office or that initial phone call, this is a first step."

- Liz Moses, senior and Program Board Executive Chair

The campaign will culminate in a benefit concert, co-presented by GW’s student radio station WRGW. Details of the concert are in development. Donations will go to Active Minds.

“This campaign is a proactive approach to mental health awareness, and for students who may not feel comfortable making that walk to the UCC office or that initial phone call, this is a first step,” Ms. Moses added.

Students who submitted a postcard at the kickoff event received information about on campus mental health resources. Staff members from the University Counseling Center, GW’s Meltzer Center and the Residence Hall Association distributed information at the event.

“The UCC fully supports the efforts of university departments and student organizations to develop campus-wide programming and events that bring everyone's attention to these important topics,” UCC Director Silvestro Weisner said.

The UCC will join universities across the country in participating in National Depression Screening Day on Oct. 9. The center will offer in-person confidential depression screenings at the Mount Vernon Campus and at the Foggy Bottom Campus office, 2033 K St. NW in Suite 330.

UCC Assistant Director of Outreach and Prevention Imran Riaz said that the 10 to 15-minute assessment could help students understand whether a low mood is indicative of clinical depression.

“If a student’s score reaches a high enough number, he or she will be encouraged to walk in to the UCC to speak to a counselor in more depth,” Dr. Riaz said. “College is a time of many transitions and signs of a mental illness often first appear in people who are18 to 22 years of age. We would encourage any student who feels they might be suffering from depression to take a screening.”

The UCC will continue to offer services at the K Street Northwest office 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Additional walk-in services on the Mount Vernon Campus were announced last month.

A 24-hour hotline at 202-994-5300 is available for those who wish to speak to a counselor beyond regular business hours. Members of the university community are also encouraged to fill out a CARE Network form if they are concerned about a student.