The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday May 5th

Rethink: Psychiatric Illness hosts mental health skills training to end stigma

CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article misattributed the final quote to Allen O’Barr. It was actually said by Taylor Swankie. The article has been changed to reflect this. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.

Freshman Taylor Swankie won her school’s geography bee two weeks after her father committed suicide. She was the valedictorian of her eighth-grade class that same year.

4.8 percent of students seriously contemplated suicide

11.8 percent of students visited Counseling and Wellness Services

75 percent were treated at CWS

25 percent were referred to therapists in the community

Since her father’s death in 2006, Swankie has continually worked to defy her small town’s low expectations, but she still struggles every day to cope with her father’s suicide and its stigma.

Swankie, one of the members of Rethink: Psychiatric Illness, a living-learning community that was created just last year within UNC’s Connected Learning Program, spoke on Saturday at the group’s mental health training program in Graham Memorial.

The Connected Learning Program will be eliminated next year due to budget cuts, but the group’s members said they hope to continue dispelling myths about mental illness even after the program ends.

“The great thing about this training is that they are empowering peers to really reach out to their friends and colleagues,” said Jill Peterfeso, mentor for the Connected Learning Program.

At the training, about 30 participants learned about mental illness and learned skills to work toward combating its stigma.

Viviana Bonilla-Lopez, co-founder of the group, said its purpose is to create an environment where people feel empowered to step forward and speak openly about mental illness.

“The way to end stigma is for people to come out and share their stories,” added Stephanie Nieves-Rios, co-founder of the group.

The majority of the students who attended the training were psychology majors, but many said they also had a friend or loved one who was mentally ill.

During a “crossing lines” activity at the training, only four people said they didn’t know someone who had attempted suicide. All participants knew someone who suffered from depression.

About 12 percent of UNC students visited Counseling and Wellness Services last year, but the number of people suffering from a mental illness at the University is likely much higher, Director Allen O’Barr said.

“If they don’t walk through the door, we don’t have any way of knowing they are suffering,” O’Barr said.

O’Barr said 4.8 percent of UNC students seriously contemplated suicide last year.

“I wouldn’t say everyone has suicidal thoughts, but it has crossed a lot more people’s minds than you would think,” she said.

“A lot of people don’t want to admit they are struggling, but talking about it is a sign of strength,” Swankie said.

Contact the University Editor at university@dailytarheel.com.

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