University of Saint Joseph Partners With Deconstructing Stigma To Promote Student Wellness

December 11, 2023

McLean Hospital’s new portable Deconstructing Stigma exhibit, which highlights the mental health narratives of eight participants from the hospital’s anti-stigma campaign, recently served as a backdrop for the University of Saint Joseph’s recent The Reason We Speak event.

Hosted by the USJ Wellness Center, students spoke and described the importance of breaking the stigma around mental health conditions.

The installation was on display in the university’s McGovern Building from Suicide Prevention Day, September 10, to World Mental Health Day, October 10.

According to Student Affairs Wellness Educator Miriam Correa, the dates bookended a period when the university’s Wellness Center collaborated with its Counseling and Psychological Services to showcase their offerings to the student community.

“I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity for our students at Saint Joseph’s,” Correa said. “In bringing Deconstructing Stigma here, I worked with our Counseling and Psychological Services department to discuss suicide prevention, but also to talk about our proactive strategies that we can do here in the Wellness Center to promote well-being.”

“The more you talk about mental health, the more you can normalize such conversations,” she added.

Deconstructing Stigma display, with photos and stories on boards among chairs and tables

The Deconstructing Stigma narratives on display included that of comedian and talk show host Howie Mandell. In his narrative, Howie shared how he kept his obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and depression a secret for many years until he realized that “the people with mental health issues are everyone.”

Ann, another Deconstructing Stigma participant, described her challenges in receiving a correct diagnosis and proper treatment for bipolar disorder. She eventually found the care she needed. She also discovered her voice through blogging. “I can raise my hand now and say I helped pave the way,” she explained in her narrative.

Correa reached out to McLean’s Deconstructing Stigma team in the summer of 2023 after hearing about the campaign at her previous job at another college.

Year-round, the University of Saint Joseph’s Counseling and Psychological Services provides therapeutic interventions, including individual and group therapy, outreach programs, and emergency services.

The university’s Center for Wellness Development offers coaching and motivational support, classroom workshops on wellness promotion, as well as yoga and mindfulness classes. Its social activities include crafting events, movie nights, and weekly visits from therapy dogs.

In the center’s wellness room, which is open daily, students can relax, study, or try devices on hand, such as eye mask massagers or biofeedback meditation headbands.

Correa: “When I have classes visit the wellness room, I talk a lot about what our Surgeon General talks about—that social connection is important, and that isolation and the feeling of loneliness can be just as detrimental to our health as smoking.”

“Because your life matters.”

“To create a space where all are welcome to share their thoughts.”

“Because nobody should feel alone.”

– Some of the sentiments students have shared on USJ Wellness Center’s Instagram

The Deconstructing Stigma campaign provided an opportunity for Saint Joseph’s students to see real people and stories behind mental health conditions. Such exposure may encourage students to open up about their own experiences with mental health challenges and seek help when they need it.

Because the installation featured people’s everyday lives, and the steps people take toward wellness and treatment, it was a fitting representation of what the Wellness Center and Counseling and Psychological Services offer students.

“Putting a face to mental health is important,” Correa said. “I always stress to the students here on campus that we all have mental health just like we all have physical health. It’s just where we fall on that spectrum.”

She added: “Having the visuals and the stories was important for our students, and connecting the stories to the events and our services was a nice way to tie everything together.”

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