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Back-to-School with NAMI on Campus

August 23, 2005

Jim Monti, a college senior at the University of Illinois, who interned in the NAMI national offices this summer, shares his first-hand experiences with the NAMI on Campus program.

For all of my life, August has meant one thing: back to school. I must say returning to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) for my senior year is more exciting and fun than returning to second grade, but I'm a little bummed that I don't get to buy the box of 96 crayons with the sharpener in the back.

The first week of a college semester presents a fresh start and an entire world of opportunity for students. However, for many students, mental illness can take away those opportunities and severely affect someone who is in the prime of his or her life.

Mental health should be the primary health concern on college campuses. Most students are physically healthy, but mental illness affects 25% of students at any given time. However, the mental health services on campuses are typically inadequately equipped to handle the influx of students requiring services. There are usually long waits to see psychiatrists, and the funding for the programs is often times too low.

This has been the case at UIUC, as it is at many campuses across the country. In November of 2004, a friend and I took the route that many students across the country are taking: we looked into the NAMI on Campus program in order to bolster and work in conjunction with the existing mental health services. NAMI on Campus affiliates play instrumental roles when it comes to improving mental health awareness and support on campuses. At NAMI-UIUC, we take a two-pronged approach when it comes to mental health on campus -- advocacy and support.

Raising awareness and increasing education about mental health is crucial on campuses. On the UIUC campus, we have held many events and thought of numerous ways to accomplish these tasks. For instance, we sold the ever-so-popular wristbands with a silver color and the word "hope" embossed on them in a successful effort to raise awareness of the issue. We also brought in speakers to educate and discuss mental health topics that are relevant to the students. The goal of these efforts is to make the campus community aware of these difficult-to-recognize issues in order to better fund and support the existing services on campuses.

The second area that NAMI-UIUC works in occurs at the interpersonal level. We hold weekly meetings to discuss various areas in mental health from a student's perspective and experience. These sessions are extremely effective because they provide an opportunity for students to talk freely, and people begin to realize that there are others who understand the difficult situation of being a college student with a mental illness.

By using the enthusiasm and creativity of young adults, as well as taking advantage of the resources colleges offer for education and awareness purposes, the 35 active and developing affiliates that comprise NAMI on Campus will continue to make a large difference in every realm of mental health.

To learn more about the NAMI on Campus affiliate program and issues related to college students and mental illness, visit the NAMI on Campus Web site.

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