Ohio University students are working together to disband the negative associations surrounding mental health through an art project entitled ‘Break the Stigma.’
The project was formulated by Dr. Stephanie Weigel, a visiting assistant professor for the psychology department, who had previously introduced it to other universities during her time at graduate school and in pursuing her Ph.D.
Mental health refers to someone’s emotional and psychological well-being, while mental illness refers to disorders that affect one’s mood, thinking and behavior. The project is on display in Porter Hall.
Weigel offered the assignment as an extra credit opportunity for her students. It consists of various posters created by the students, all of which illustrate aspects of mental health and drawing awareness to it. The artwork is composed of symbolic drawings and digital infographics with positive affirmations, statistics and resources for students to utilize.
Weigel emphasized that the artistic nature of the project allowed for her students to creatively express their feelings about mental health.
“It’s about them being able to put all of these things we’ve talked about into a creative outlet,” Weigel said. “There's a lot of differences in each piece and you can see for some individuals, the things that have directly impacted them because it’s reflected in the artwork that they created.”
The intention for the project, Weigel explained, is to provide a support system amongst the students who created the artwork, and those who will see it in the hallway.
“We recognize that there’s a stigma surrounding mental health and it’s something that we need to work together to dismantle,” Weigel said. “Nevertheless, knowing that there’s at least this group of individuals at your school who are here to support you is so important.”
Alexis Frantz, a freshman studying special education, was one of the students who participated in the project. Frantz described her poster as representative of the complexities present in mental health topics.
“I made a puzzle piece and put a word related to mental health on each one and it all just represented how not every puzzle is going to be perfect,” Frantz said. “I thought it was important to say that not everyone is going to have the exact same puzzle or the exact same pieces, but if you reach out you never know if somebody can help you.”
The idea for her piece was inspired by a personal tragedy, something that encouraged Frantz to advocate for mental health awareness.
“I actually lost a friend this year to mental health and it was really hard,” Frantz said. “So my inspiration was based on her and trying to understand someone else’s struggles.”
For Weigel, the significance in bringing attention to mental health is rooted in the societal misunderstandings of mental illness. She emphasized how the inability to directly visualize someone else’s problems creates a barrier in how individuals perceive mental health issues.
“If you came into class with your bone sticking out of your arm, we would take you to the hospital and not assume you’re being dramatic,” Weigel said. “Unfortunately, when it comes to mental health, oftentimes the symptoms are not as physical, so we have to be trusting of these individuals and recognize that if they’re not doing OK, they need to get help.”
Megan Gale, a freshman studying special education, was another student who created artwork for the project. Gale stressed that the integration of mental health discussions in daily life is imperative in diminishing these misunderstandings of the topic.
“Mental health and mental illness is so stigmatized and it really shouldn't be because it’s such a normal thing,” Gale said. “One in four people have some form of mental illness, so bringing awareness to it and normalizing it is so important so people can get the help they need without being ostracized by society.”
In the effort to normalize mental health discussions, Weigel mentioned she finds it important to be candid with her students about her own struggles with mental illness and make herself available as a resource to them.
“During graduate school, I experienced a lot of depression and anxiety and I think saying that is a good thing to talk about,” Weigel said. “It helps students realize that you can have all of these things happen and you can come out on the other side and be successful.”
Despite the prevalent stigmatization of mental illness, Weigel believes the enthusiastic endeavors from students at OU highlight the potential to decrease the negative connotations and raise the awareness of mental health on campus.
“I get a feeling that there is at least some community here wanting to break the stigma on this campus,” Weigel said. “I hope that is something I continue to see here going forward.”