MSA tries new format for mental health discussion

The discussion is the fifth “How Are You” open mic event and the first this semester.

Max Chao

On Tuesday night, around 20 students gathered to discuss mental health over coffee, donuts and coloring pages.

The students gathered at the Whole Music Club in Coffman Memorial Union to share experiences and mental health strategies at an event hosted by the Minnesota Student Association’s health and wellness committee. The meeting was the first of its kind this year.

“I want people to feel like they can talk about it. For me, I’ve always felt like I can’t really talk about my mental health unless it’s with my closest friends,” said Emily O’Connell, a University junior on the health and wellness committee who emceed the event. “A lot of people enjoyed having this space to be able to openly share things.”

Discussions focused on self-care strategies and problems that prevent people from opening up about mental health. Attendees also talked about how home life and cultural identity can affect mental health.

The meetings started during the 2015 fall semester as part of the “How Are You” campaign, an MSA initiative which aims to bring awareness to mental health issues on campus, said Leslie Kent, University sophomore and director of the health and wellness committee.

According to a 2015 Boynton Health survey, 32.7 percent of students reported being diagnosed with a mental health condition at some point.

MSA’s focus on mental illness changes with the campus climate, Kent said, and this year, the committee is focusing on how the University’s environment affects mental health.

The meeting was attended by MSA and non-MSA members alike.

“I thought it was good… I think that it’s important that [students] know that there are places that you can talk about mental health,” said University first-year Andrew Torrance.

Previous meetings involved an open mic where students could share original poems, songs and stories on stage, but this meeting was held in a discussion format to encourage participation, O’Connell said.

In future sessions, MSA hopes to bring back open mic aspects to the meeting, she said, and a second meeting is planned for spring semester.