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SEMIS seeks to solve mental illness stigmas

By Laura Fitzgerald, For The Miami Student

Nearly one in four young adults aged 18 to 24 have a diagnosable mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

To combat this common struggle among young people, the new on-campus organization "Students Ending Mental Illness Stigmas" (SEMIS) has been created to help Miami University students process the stigmas and stereotypes surrounding mental illness.

Students struggling with mental illness sometimes delay getting help because of the negative stigmas associated with it, according to co-founder of SEMIS and junior Meg Terlau. She said one of the club's main goals is to break down these negative stereotypes so students may seek professional help when needed.

"If you … just know that all of those negative connotations don't actually have to be carried with that word, it just makes you feel more comfortable with yourself," Terlau said.

Co-founders junior Meg Terlau, senior Shelby Oda and senior Sara Wehrle started the club in the first weeks of the semester, after finding a post on the Chi Omega Facebook page from a sorority sister asking for students to start a SEMIS chapter at Miami. The three responded quickly and created the club.

SEMIS aims to eliminate some of the negative connotations associated with mental illnesses, such as the misconception that mental illnesses are not very prevalent or that the individual suffering from it is "weak."

SEMIS co-founders all said they hope that students will realize illnesses such as depression and anxiety are something that they can get professional help for, just like they could for a physical illness.

Psychology professor and faculty adviser Aaron Luebbe said the club plans to break down those stigmas by having students interact and listen to other students who face mental illness.

"Trying to understand each other as individuals is really the way that stigmas break down," Luebbe said.

This issue is particularly important to the founding members of SEMIS, as they said they have personal experience with mental illness. Terlau said she has struggled with depression and anxiety since middle school, and Oda has family members who struggle with mental illnesses.

"I am a really big advocate for coming out and talking about it," Terlau said.

SEMIS will also give students the opportunity to learn more about and raise awareness for mental illness.

The group will help grow and develop the organization through posters, T-shirts and word of mouth. SEMIS will have has monthly meetings, each month focusing on a different mental illness.

In addition, the club is planning a 5K next semester. At each mile there will be a sign with common misconceptions about mental illness and the proceeds will be donated to a charity benefiting mental illness. Coincidentally, National Mental Illness Awareness Week spans from Oct. 5 to 11. While SEMIS has no formal plans for the event, participants traditionally wear green in honor of the week, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Anyone interested may visit the national SEMIS Facebook page, where the organization frequently posts articles to raise awareness about mental illness. Students may also visit the Miami chapter of SEMIS on the Hub.