Organizations Bring Change 2 Mind, Active Minds at USF fight mental-health stigma

If you met Margaret DeBellotte-Torres — an ambassador for Bring Change 2 Mind, a nonprofit organization working to reduce mental health stigma — you probably wouldn’t realize she was once a victim of it.

A few years ago, life was moving too quickly, and DeBellotte-Torres was miserable. A divorce.  A child moving out. A lost job.

“I didn’t recognize what was really happening until it got to the point of crisis,” she said of being diagnosed with clinical depression.

Working through her difficulties resulted in financial problems, and she asked a family member to let her move in.

“You better make sure you take those pills,” the relative said. “Because I don’t want you coming here going crazy on us.”

Social stigma, like the relative’s comment, refers to prejudice and discrimination toward people with mental illness. But sufferers can also experience  “perceived stigma,” according to “Mental Health and Stigma,” an article by Graham C.L. Davey, Ph.D.

Self-stigma is when the sufferer internalizes perceptions of discrimination.

Stigma leads sufferers to feel ashamed and can hurt their chances for recovery. DeBellotte-Torres said the stigma caused her to be silent about her illness, which made it worse.

“I felt like I was on an island by myself,” she said.

Finally, she started reading stories of other people, mostly celebrities, who had mental health problems, which helped her see she wasn’t the only person struggling and that it was possible to recover her health.

“They advertise how to get rid of, you know, acid reflux on television, and how to get rid of erectile dysfunction, but they don’t really emphasize how to go get help for depression,”DeBellotte-Torres said.

However, there is controversy over how to combat mental-illness stigma. Some tactics use “symbolic violence,” according to Kate Holland’s article in the June 2012 issue of Social Semiotics.

In symbolic violence, a group promotes its agenda so much it comes across as labeling others as ignorant. This results in a gentle, but invisible, violence that can turn people away from even worthy causes because people do not like the accusatory tone of the campaigns, some advocates claim.

Furthermore, some feel anti-stigma campaigns that promote words such as “crazy,” “lunatic,” and “bipolar” are offensive.  Holland said these words are so integrated into every day conversation that shaming these words is problematic. Instead of decreasing stigma, she argues it might increase discrimination because the word-shaming could be viewed as overly hostile.

At USF, the Action Minds Club is taking the approach of empowering students to speak openly about mental health.

The club plans to use social media andthe hashtag #fightagainststigma to encourage followers to post images or quotes of accurate representations or misrepresentations of mental health and replace negative posts with a positive response.

Active Minds will host workshops in the fall to educate people about mental illnesses. More information can be found on the Active Minds USF Facebook page.

Like DeBellotte-Torres, Active Minds’ president, Nevedha White, a psychology and social work junior, believes in combating ignorance.

“Because it’s so common, it only makes sense that we learn more about it so that we can treat each other with the respect that we deserve,” White said.

USF Students and Faculty Promote Recycling Movement at RecycleMania

Nearly 100 students listened to local bands, made environmentally friendly crafts and answered trivia questions in the Marshall Student Center Amphitheater Feb. 23.

Loud music and opportunities to win free items such as water bottles and Frisbees greeted students at USF’s RecycleFest. The mission behind the activities encouraged students to save the world through recycling.

“I think a lot of important movements start with students and start with the younger generation, so I think it’s our time to take on this project,” said Melissa Wolfe, communications and marketing coordinator of the Patel College of Global Sustainability.

Wolfe said young people have spurred change in the  past decades, whether the issue was women’s rights, equality or protesting the Vietnam War.  She believes today’s most important issue is the environment.

“The problem is that society is so separated and isolated that it’s hard to get a movement of people together, while at a university, we are used to bringing together students and collaborating on big ideas,” Wolfe said. “So, I think it’s our turn.”

RecycleFest was the kick-off of the month-long event RecycleMania 2015. The Student Environmental Association organized the event to educate students about recycling and to promote awareness. Next month, the SEA will host seminars, provide an electronic-waste drive, teach composting and show a documentary on plastic waste.

College students should be concerned about waste management for many reasons, activists say. Ninety-five percent of the forests in the U.S. have already been cut down, according to Princeton University’s “Top 10 Reasons to Recycle.” Wildlife can be protected by reducing demand for wood and other resources such as petroleum and mineral ores.

Furthermore, reusing materials helps manufacturers avoid using toxic chemicals that are used to treat virgin materials, environmental advocates say. Protecting our water and soil from toxins and reducing the amount of trash in landfills is vital to providing clean water and healthy food for people, they say.

Recycling is responsible for 1.1 million jobs, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Even with such benefits, only 32.5 percent of waste in the U.S. is recycled, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council website.

RecycleMania will measure how much USF contributes to these numbers, said Kirsti Martinez, president of the Student Environmental Association and a junior majoring in environmental biology, and environmental science and policy.

The amount of waste produced by USF and the weight of recycled products will be recorded and published on the Patel College of Global Sustainability website.

Some students at RecycleFest shared their tips on how students can avoid contributing to the trash.

“I think the biggest thing is to reduce, because a lot of plastics can only be recycled so many times into new things,” Martinez said. “Glass and aluminum can be recycled a lot easier, but even then it’s just better to reduce the amount of waste that you’re producing.”

Calyn Lee, a junior majoring in environmental science and policy, said students could pick up trash when they see it and put recycling in the appropriate bins.

Lee and her roommates shop with reusable bags at the grocery store, turn off the lights in their apartment and unplug unused appliances.

Lee said recycling has saved her money in addition to protecting the environment. She buys less, and her bills are lower. Lee believes college is a perfect time to learn how to recycle.

“This is when people make changes,” she said.  “Usually, when people go to college, they’re more open-minded.”