James Madison University

The Dukes are Dancing with the Stars

By Deirdre E. Myers

PHOTO: StarsJames Madison students will be “Dancing with the Stars” this April.   Active Minds, an organization that strives to increase awareness of mental health issues and reduce the stigma of mental illness, has partnered with the Counseling Center to produce this event. Erin Casey, President of Active Minds, says that the purpose of the event is to engage the JMU campus in discussions regarding mental health in a way that is inviting and entertaining.

The “Stars” themselves are well-known students from various areas of campus, including Make Your Mark on Madison, Greek Life, 1787 Orientation, JMU’s Christian organizations, and the Student Government Association. Each couple will be dancing in support of a different mental health initiative. Between dancing sets, attendees will learn about these health initiatives, including what to do in a mental health crisis, body image and eating, depression, anxiety and stress, relationships, and suicide.  Guest speaker Melissa Ann Hopely will discuss bullying and suicide prevention.  There will be t-shirts and other giveaways at the event.  Admission will be $2 per ticket, and proceeds will help fund Active Minds’ National Suicide Prevention Week, in September 2013. .

It’s important to understand the effects of mental health issues. Active Minds encourages all students to have conversations about mental health issues  with family and friends. Know what you can do if a friend or family member comes to you with a crisis. Know what resources are available to your family members and friends.  Most importantly, remember that it is okay and important to talk about mental health and illness.

People are often afraid to talk about mental health concerns.  Many hold the attitude that mental illness is something that a person can simply overcome.  Like physical illness, people suffering from mental illness often need help to deal with their problems.   Many people believe that people only have mental health concerns after experiencing a crisis or illness.  However, this is not true—everyone experiences periodic mental health concerns, which are as common as a cold.  Anxiety and depression are some of the most common mental health concerns, which can be related to life events like school stress, breakups, death, or sexual issues including assault or feelings of inadequacy. These types of issues are serious, and are linked to eating disorders, substance abuse problems, self-injury, and suicide. Misunderstandings of mental health issues discourage people who are suffering from mental health concerns from reaching out to get the assistance that they need.  However, help is always available for those who ask.

There are many resources available to help people with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, and many other mental health concerns.     Everyone can speak with a trusted professor, family or friends. Those looking for professional support can contact the Rockingham Memorial Hospital’s Behavioral Health Center, and JMU students can rely on the JMU Counseling and Student Development Center in Varner House.  We all need to be ready to listen, and everyone needs to know who they can call in a crisis.

If a friend calls you with a crisis, the first thing you need to do is listen.  Take the time to notice when your friends or family members are upset.  Provide emotional support, and guide them to professional help.  Don’t miss an opportunity to help a friend in need.  If you think that you or someone you know may be having mental health issues, look at Active Minds’ 12 Signs of mental health distress and get professional help as quickly as possible, so that you don’t have to struggle alone. Medication is also an option under advisement of a mental health professional. Ask for support from friends and family when you need it, and be sure to be a support system for those you care about.

Dancing With the Stars of JMU will take place on April 10 in the Wilson Auditorium at 7 p.m. For more information, visit the event’s Facebook page, or email activemindsjmu@gmail.com. To find out more about mental health visit the Active Minds national website.