Students recently founded the University chapter of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, with the aim of working alongside other mental health organizations on Grounds to create more resources and support for students.
The new chapter on Grounds — in the the midst of its first active semester — is a subset of the national organization. Fourth-year College student and President Khanh Le, third-year College student and Vice President Olivia Lacny and fourth-year College student and executive board member Ilana Brody had personal motives for bringing the organization to Grounds.
A transfer student, Le struggled with transitioning to the University, while Brody was shaken by the number of suicides in the community last year. When a University alum reached out to Psychology majors with information about starting a NAMI chapter, Le and Brody saw an opportunity make the changes they hoped to see. The two met, joined shortly afterwards by Lacny, and began taking steps to establish the CIO.
“For me, personally, when I first got to U.Va., the transition was really difficult,” Lacny said. “I felt like there’s this perception at U.Va. that everyone’s perfect, and people appear perfect all the time and you have to fit in with that, and I was struggling to fit in with that kind of persona. So, for me, I just want people to realize that just because what they see on Instagram and social media is portraying this perfect life, it doesn’t mean people’s lives are perfect.”
Certain aspects of the college experience put students at risk for mental illness, the NAMI founding members said. Young people are the most likely to experience depression, and academic, extracurricular and social pressures can cause stress for students. Knowing these risk factors, the founders of NAMI want to make mental health resources readily available to anyone in need.
“NAMI provides great resources to people who want to learn more about positive mental health and finding help for mental illness,” Brody said in an email statement. “I want students to know that a CIO exists to promote positivity in order to convey the message that positive mental health matters.”
Support groups, volunteer opportunities and speaker events are some of the resources NAMI plans to offer. The CIO hopes to collaborate with other mental health organizations as well. By coordinating their efforts, NAMI and groups like To Write Love on Her Arms, Active Minds, Region 10, On Our Own and CAPS hope to maximize the number of students they can reach.
“One of our biggest goals is to be able to bring enough awareness for students on Grounds about mental health illness and any difficulty a student might be struggling with,” Le said.
Through their work on Grounds, NAMI members hope to teach people to view mental health on a spectrum. All students should feel comfortable reaching out to get help for their problems, no matter how big or small, members said.
“We don’t want people to be turned away from the idea of an illness because we don’t believe you have to have an illness to struggle or to deal with things like anxiety and stress,” Lacny said. “We really want to broaden our horizon in who we reach, so we don’t want to just reach out to people with illness, but everyone.”