Danielle Herrera took a deep, calming breath before assuming the stage in the Northwest Campus Auditorium on the Hill on Saturday morning to share her message about the importance of mental health.
“Every time I find myself on a podium, the little sweaty man in my head tries to tell me, ‘Don’t you remember that you have anxiety and you shouldn’t be doing this?’” Herrera said. “I respond with, ‘Yeah I do have a mental illness, but that’s not all I am.’”
Herrera, a fourth-year psychology student, shared her battle with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety following her mother’s multiple suicide attempts and five years of homelessness. She was one of six keynote speakers at the second annual conference organized by All of Us: A Campaign to Rethink Mental Health.
Saturday’s daylong event, “Healthy State of MYnd: A Conference to Prioritize Mental Health,” featured student and faculty speakers and hourlong workshops led by student campus organizations including the V-Day Movement, Bruin Consent Coalition, Body Image Task Force and LCC Theatre Company.
Stella Joh, co-conference director of the All of Us campaign, said each workshop sought to illuminate a different aspect of mental health in relation to each organization’s individual specialization and mission.
The campaign, founded in 2014 as an extension of the undergraduate student government Student Wellness Commission, aims to combat the stigma of mental illness on campus according to its website.
Joh, a fourth-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student, said she became involved in the initiative last year when she realized studying for the MCAT was physically and emotionally draining, and wanted to prioritize both her academic success and her health.
“College glamorizes the idea of the overly exhausted student because that’s supposed to mean you’re working hard,” Joh said. “But if I want to become a doctor who heals other people, I don’t want to be killing myself with stress in the process.”
Noor Zanial, a third-year human biology and society student, represented the Muslim Student Association and created a workshop with the Beautiful Minds Project entitled “Muslims, the Media and Mental Health.”
She added her presentation aimed to shed light on Muslim students’ daily struggle in dealing with stigma for both their faith and mental health needs.
“When I started wearing the hijab in the seventh grade, I was bullied and I thought that eventually I would get over that mentally,” Zanial said. “It still affects me to this day.”
Conference attendee Camille Pascul said she appreciated the myriad of support groups and resources available for students at the conference, regardless of whether students are struggling with major illnesses or day-to-day problems.
“Depression (is) definitely seen as a mental health problem, but … something as small as struggling with procrastination can be addressed in terms of mental health too,” Pascul said. “It’s all on a spectrum.”
Joh said she hoped students who attended the conference realize the important of reflecting on their mental health, no matter how busy they are.
“We don’t all deal with mental illness, but we all have mental health,” Joh said. “Everyone should be thinking about their mental health as much as their physical health for their academic success.”