UC Berkeley’s 1st mental health conference addresses stigma

Kevin Cheung/Staff

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The Office of the Academic Affairs Vice President and You Mean More, a campus club focused on mental health awareness and suicide prevention, hosted UC Berkeley’s first annual mental health conference, “Stronger than Stigma,” on Saturday.

The conference used an interdisciplinary approach to address mental health-related topics through a variety of perspectives, such as intersectionality. The conference also included breakout sessions led by various campus students and organizations, addressing topics such as body image, circadian sleep rhythms, identity and suicide-prevention methods.

“We hope that this conference gives students a chance to learn a new approach to mental health and take that perspective and apply it to their lives, whether that is about body image, circadian rhythms, battling OCD and depression, or any of the other topics discussed in the conference,” said Academic Affairs Vice President Melissa Hsu in an email.

According to Nick Daneshvari, internal executive and co-president of You Mean More, the organization wanted to create a specific outlet to educate the community on mental health and reached out to the AAVP after discovering her office was hosting a similar event. He noted that because of increased awareness and acceptance of mental health discussions, there was a need to host an event to further educate the community.

ASUC Senator Kathy Tran hopes the conference will help foster a community where people feel included and inclined to share their experiences with mental health, adding that mental health is unique to a person’s identity.

The conference’s keynote speakers, Ruben Canedo and Erin Accurso, discussed the development of mental health at a young age and how to combat the stigma of mental illness on campus. Danielle Miguel, safety and mental health co-director for Tran’s office, noted that discussions such as these help form a collective self-consciousness toward an understanding for other students’ struggles with mental health.

Raj Fadadu, AAVP mental health and wellness programs director, expressed similar sentiments, saying the conference would expose him to different perspectives on mental health that he would otherwise not be aware of.

Several attendees discussed the tendency of students to prioritize academics over their personal well-being. A recent study revealed that many astronomy students battle with depression, according to Chelsea Harris, a fourth-year graduate student in astrophysics. Consequently, there has been a recent push to address mental wellness in the department — something that is necessary throughout the sciences, Harris added.

Shruthi Thatikunta, an intern for the AAVP office, expressed hope that the keynote speakers would help students at the conference realize the importance of mental health and well-being as a prerequisite for success.

“Bringing awareness to mental health is important in order to be the best you can be,” Thatikunta said.

Contact Roann Pao at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @roann_pao”.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Raj Fadadu was an intern for the AAVP office. In fact, he is the mental health and wellness programs director.