Four women sat around a desk in Frey Hall on Thursday, Nov. 30, preparing to hold e-board elections for the Peer Mental Health Alliance (PMHA), a new club at Stony Brook University that is trying to end the stigma surrounding mental health.
Founded by senior psychology major Allilsa Fernandez last semester, the group’s mission is twofold – to advocate that students with disabilities have access to necessary resources and to help destigmatize mental illness.
“The same way your eyes get ill, your fingers get ill, your feet get ill, you get diabetes, you get heart disease, your brain gets ill,” Fernandez said. “And it’s a part of us. Why is it then we’re like ‘huh? Not the brain!’”
PMHA has an active presence on campus, having run events and collaborated with other groups on programs such as the History of Mental Health Stigma, Suicide Prevention Awareness, Cancer Dance Off and Relaxathon. The event turnouts are successful, Fernandez said, citing hundreds of students in attendance. She estimates 350-500 students went through her group’s Suicide Prevention Awareness Program.
“We are always looking to collaborate with organizations where we are least expected,” Fernandez said, as a way to normalize the idea of mental health.
PMHA has worked with Stony Brook’s Center for Prevention and Outreach (CPO) on a few events this semester, asking them to table at Suicide Prevention Awareness, and joining CPO in the annual Take a Stand/Walk with Me domestic violence awareness event.
“PMHA created an array of cards with messages of hope and support for victims and survivors of domestic violence,” Christine Szaraz, the coordinator of sexual violence prevention and outreach programs with the CPO, wrote in an email. “Such collaborations have been extremely meaningful and successful on a variety of levels, and we plan to build on our partnership with them in spring and into future semesters.”
The group also works with nonprofits, such as L.I. Against Domestic Violence and the Victims Information Bureau of Suffolk (VIBS), an organization that, according to its website, aims “to assist the survivors of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault.” In December, the group plans to collect donations for Chapin Center, a nursing home in Springfield, Massachusetts, where they intend to spend the day with the elderly.
“I don’t think a lot of people realize that by doing simple things like [donating clothes or toiletries], it provides a mental health service in itself,” Fernandez said. “But we’re always looking for ways to be of service, not only on campus, but off campus as well, to provide for people’s mental health in a positive way.”
“I can say that my own peer educators and outreach assistants, as well as the students participating in the events in which we’ve collaborated, have been really impressed with the work they are doing,” Szaraz wrote in an email. “Their leadership is dedicated to the issues and the people affected by them, and they are taking collaborative, creative approaches to engaging all members of the campus community in their efforts.”