Mental Health Initiative presents third annual Mental Health Awareness Month

Mental Health Initiative presents third annual Mental Health Awareness Month

Photo Credits: QUINN SPOONER / AGGIE

Monthlong celebration focuses on intersectionalities

Throughout May, the UC Davis Mental Health Initiative (MHI) hosts 20 different events and 10 themed days on campus to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month. The events range from therapy llamas on the quad to workshops focusing on the undocumented community.

The panels, workshops and activities are part of the MHI’s mission to create a broader definition of mental health. They seek to reveal the different aspects and intersectionalities associated with mental health — such as LGBTQIA+ mental health, body image mental health and more.

Each day and theme is intended to deepen students’ understanding of the topic and the various aspects that mental health can encompass.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately one in five adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year. UC Davis as a whole tries to increase well-being and destigmatize mental illness, recently ranking number two on “Top 10 Colleges Advocating for Mental Health Awareness.”

The MHI is one of the main mental health advocacy initiatives on campus, striving to destigmatize mental illness and create a safe space for the Davis community.

Deborah Widjaja, a fourth-year neurobiology, physiology and behavior major and publicity coordinator for the MHI, explained that because mental health depends on intersectional experiences, the MHI found it essential to create a broad, encompassing theme for the month. She stressed that one main goal for the month is to reach far corners of different groups.

Widjaja also made it clear that students need not be experts on mental health to participate. The events are also meant to be educational for those who want to learn.

“We have a lot of different topics, such as mental health in general, what does mental health mean and what some examples of mental health illnesses are,” Widjaja said. “There’s a themed day that we organize called intro to mental health and it just talks about mental health, usually in the lens of people who don’t really understand it yet.”

Although the MHI hosts all events, Widjaja explained it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of other student organizations on campus. This year, the MHI partnered with the Coffee House and Unitrans to promote the wide variety of activities.

She also commended the 70-something volunteers who helped create a “cohesive team” within the MHI. One of these volunteers is Shreya Deshpande, a third-year cognitive science and sociology double major and the ASUCD vice president.

Deshpande played a crucial role in organizing the LGBTQIA+ mental health day, scheduled for May 30. They feel that giving each event a unique topic reveals an overarching theme for the month: intersecting identities.

They went on to explain the role that mental health plays in their life.

“Mental health is a lot of things,” Deshpande said. “It’s about self care, it’s about community care […] Mental health really prioritizes self awareness and making sure you’re constantly thinking about whether you’re okay, what could make you okay or who makes you okay.”

Another active volunteer was Shritha Gunturu, a second-year psychology major who worked the “Button Up for AAPI ME/SA Mental Health!” event at the Memorial Union patio on May 14. She said this month is intended to encourage students to open up about their emotions.

“It’s okay to talk about yourself when you’re not doing well,” Gunturu said. “It doesn’t make you less of a person if you have mental health issues. There’s no reason for that stigma, and I think this month is really about starting that conversation and opening up more of a dialogue so people have a better forum to talk about themselves.”

She also emphasized that an individual’s health should include physical and mental components, asserting that both should be treated as equally important — to her, people should have the same attitude about going to the doctor to stay healthy as they do when seeking mental health support.

“You have to make sure you take care of yourself as a person overall, and taking care of your mental health is all about self-care and checking in with yourself,” Gunturu said.

Although the month is drawing to a close, there are still two activity-filled days left: a Toxic Masculinity day on May 29, and an LGBTQIA+ day on May 30. More details can be found on the Facebook page.

Written by: Claire Dodd — campus@theaggie.org