By Ashley Rodriguez
NAMI on Campus at The University of Texas at El Paso was established in August 2013 with only five active members, but has grown now to more than 20 members. Our goal has been to raise awareness about mental health and help end the stigma on mental illness. By providing peer support, education and advocacy, we were the first organization on campus to address mental health issues.
Each year we hold many events to bring awareness to mental health. One of favorites is called Express Your Stress. Every semester during the week before finals the university is invited to learn about different coping strategies. Past events have featured art, yoga, Zumba as stress relievers. This semester will be focusing on dog therapy on behalf of our local animal shelter.
This past year we also hosted a candle light vigil on International Survivors o
f Suicide Day. There were over 100 members from the community that joined us for this very powerful event including families who had lost a loved one to suicide and mental health professionals.
But it’s more than just drawing attention to mental health with public events. In partnership with our university counseling center, we have offered our community Question Prevent Refer (QPR) training. These trainings help students be prepared for emergency crisis situations, such as showing them how to act and refer students to get help. All of the members in our club have gone through the QPR suicide training.
As college students, we know that school isn’t always easy (or fun, with all of the studying). But we also know the importance of education and don’t think anyone shouldn’t be able to receive an education because of their mental health. One of our proudest moments this year was when we helped announce the Leadership in Mental Health Advocacy Scholarship at UTEP. This scholarship, funded by local sponsors and organization fundraising, was created to help individuals with mental health conditions and advocates achieve their academic goals.
Our club has also been publically recognized by our school, receiving several prestigious awards. During our first year as an active organization, we were recognized as the Advocacy Organization of the Year, New Organization of the Year and as a Gold Standard Organization. I was also recognized as President of the Year over 400 other organization leaders!
This year, NAMI on Campus at UTEP was once again recognized as Advocacy Organization of the Year and as a Gold Standard Organization. Mike Montes, one of our most active members, was recognized as Member of the Year amongst all student organizations.
We believe that the success of our organization comes from within. All of us work together for a common goal to break the misconceptions of mental illness.
NAMI on Campus clubs across the country are helping build better communities by raising awareness on mental health and helping end the stigma associated with mental illness. But it needs to bigger than just us. Students everywhere need to join together. If we do, we can make an even more significant impact on the lives of those affected by mental illness.
Ashley Rodriguez is the president of NAMI on Campus at UTEP.
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