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‘Mental health is a journey:’ Miami holds annual mental health forum

<p>Nadya Okatomo speaks to Miami students about the importance of finding their community and overcoming mental health struggles. </p>

Nadya Okatomo speaks to Miami students about the importance of finding their community and overcoming mental health struggles.

Harvard student activist Nadya Okatomo has done a lot for a 22-year-old. She started two organizations — PERIOD, which focuses on destigmatizing and promoting menstrual hygiene, and JUV Consulting, a marketing agency helping companies target Generation Z audiences. Through it all, Okatomo was struggling with her own mental health.

Okatomo spoke at Miami University’s fourth annual Mental Health Forum on Feb. 26 in Wilks Theater, describing her background and struggles with mental health.  

Associated Student Government (ASG) sponsored the event, and ASG Student Body Vice President (VP) Dante Rossi organized it. Steve Large, assistant vice president for student health and wellness; John Ward, director of student counseling services; Jaylen Perkins, student body president; and Annika Fowler, chief of staff, were also involved with planning the event.

“Mental health is a journey,” Okatomo said at the forum. “It’s something that you’re never going to be over. You just have to find your community and keep going with it. I want to be here to be part of your community, too.”

She wrapped up with a responsive Q&A session where she offered herself as someone students could reach out to if they were ever struggling with something, mental health related or otherwise. 

The event also promoted mental health services the university offers, including Campus Care, a drop-in counseling service that began last semester, and the H.O.P.E Line, a 24/7 phone number students can call with problems and questions they have about mental health.

“I think this generation is a special generation,” Large said. “It’s a group of folks that are more willing to put words to what they’re experiencing and more willing to seek services and care.”

Around 100 students and faculty attended the forum, which Rossi said ASG spent around $11,500 on. This money came from ASG’s finances leftover after funding student organizations. Okatomo cost less than past speakers, so organizers gave laptop stickers, wristbands and t-shirts that read “mental health matters” to attendees. 

In the past, the forum has drawn 200 to 500 people, and Rossi said organizers were disappointed with the turnout this year. He could not pinpoint a reason for the drop in attendance.

Rossi still felt the forum was an important initiative in helping destigmatize mental health and aiding students with feeling confident to talk about it more.

“We never really get to hear stories like this, so hearing she’s had success gave me hope,” ASG Secretary for On-Campus Affairs Effie Fraley said.

VPs usually choose one initiative to focus on, and Rossi chose mental health. Both Ward and Large, who have worked in college student counseling for 18 and 13 years respectively, have both seen the need for mental health services rise since the beginning of their careers. 

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Large said professionals nationwide attribute this to a decreased stigma, greater understanding from professionals on the problems young people face and the impact of technology. 

Ward and Large agreed that mental health forums should not be the only action Miami students and staff take, but a first step. 

“It’s a good starting point. I see things like these forums as launching points to get folks talking, but what I would not want us to do as a university community is gather for the forum and go, ‘We’re all done. We don’t need to talk about mental health anymore for the year,’” Ward said. “We all have work to do to finish the conversation.”