Health Sciences Education Program tackles mental illness with slam poetry

By CYNTHIA WU
Staff Writer

On Oct. 25, students performed slam poetry pieces as part of Health Sciences Education Program’s (HSEP) annual Slammin’ Down the Stigma event. This event is part of the Academic Culture Assembly’s mental health awareness month and aims to destigmatize mental illness on campus.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, two-thirds of students struggling with mental health issues don’t seek help or treatment, while one in four adults experiences mental illness. One in 10 college students have considered suicide, and 60 percent of students reported feeling lonely, an indicator of depression.
Through HSEP’s event, nine student performers shared their personal journeys with mental illness on stage. Junior Mahima Shah Verma performed “Spokesperson,” an original poem about her anxiety and eating disorders and the road to self-forgiveness.
“I found that writing a poem about being your own spokesperson, or being your own representative, is very hard. It’s something that it takes a lot of self-understanding to do,” she said. “A lot of who I am as a person is not my disorder but it’s also what I do with what happened to me, and so I think that it’s affirmation for people to come to these places and to talk about [it].”
Verma said more can be done to heighten awareness about mental health.
“Everyone feels like this at some point in their life, and it’s completely normal to go and ask for some help. I just think the way…USC and people speak about it needs to be a little more open and more welcoming,” Verma said.
Sophomore Selamay Seife, who attended the event, said listening to the performers helped her realize the hardships other students may experience.
“[People] do go through things, as normal as they seem. Even people you don’t imagine go through things go through things,” she said.

 HSEP co-presidents Heidi Banh and Olivia Panchal said this poetry slam started three years ago because HSEP wanted to create a safe environment in which people could talk about mental health.
Banh said it’s important for more students to come out to these types of events.
“The first year when I came out and I saw all these people who had been struggling, it made me want to go back every single year. That first step is really important because then you start getting involved in the whole world that is mental illness and people that are struggling along with it,” Banh said.
Panchal agreed, explaining people may not realize they have a bias towards mental illness.
“When one of my friends comes to me and says they’re really stressed out and dealing with anxiety or they’re seeing a psychiatrist, my first initial response shouldn’t be ‘Oh, you’re seeing a psychiatrist. That’s so weird; what’s wrong with you’; it should be ‘Oh that’s really cool. I’m glad you’re seeking the help that you need to help you deal with your stress and your anxiety,” she said.
At the least, Panchal hopes Slammin’ Down the Stigma allowed USC students and faculty to better understand others struggling with these illnesses and realize different ways to support fellow students.
She encourages students to get involved in order to continue spreading awareness about mental illness on college campuses.
“We’re not the only ones that are drawing attention to this issue, so people should just be aware of other events and other mediums for bringing attention to the stigma on mental health throughout the year,” Panchal said.

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