BC Students Have Worked To Promote Mental Health Education And Awareness Since 1965

Last week on O’Neill Plaza, Boston College students reopened the conversation about mental health and illness with the event BC Ignites: Mental Health. Featuring the keynote speaker Thomas McGuinness, director of University Counseling Services, and seven undergraduate students who shared their stories, BC Ignites: Mental Health, was well-attended. As it happened so early in the semester, all new arrivals at Boston College—freshmen, other new students, and new faculty and staff members—were immediately introduced and welcomed into this crucial discussion about mental health on the campus. BC Ignites: Mental Health is just the beginning of UGBC’s Be Conscious Campaign. This movement was emphasized last year during the campaigning of the current officers, Nanci Fiore-Chettiar, UGBC president, and Chris Marchese, UGBC vice president, both A&S ’15, and they are now implementing their plans.

The Be Conscious campaign seeks to increase education and awareness about mental health. BC Ignites: Mental Health is not the only aspect of this campaign, however. Utilizing social media, UGBC has partnered with The Gavel to produce a series on student backgrounds and experiences called “The Authentic Eagle,” and a blog—the Mental Health Initiative—has been started where students can share their individual stories. UGBC also seeks to increase knowledge about University Counseling Services, which is a department in the Division of Student Affairs that focuses on helping students navigate the formative and sometimes difficult years of college.

This year’s UGBC administration, however, is not the first organization to try to put the spotlight on mental health and illness. The Asian Caucus held “Silver Week” last year, a four-event series that aimed to further awareness on campus of mental health. “Opening the Cabinet: Real Talk on Mental Health,” a performance-based event, was just one aspect of Silver Week. Representatives from seven other culture clubs were also present at this series, and Noel Simon, former co-president of the South Asian Student Association, discussed bullying.

Matt Alonsozana, BC ’14 and former president of the Asian Caucus, stated that other organizations, not just the Asian Caucus and UGBC, were “starting to notice there’s a greater need for us to be truly Jesuit in our conception of health, and if we’re going to be holistic, we also need to be concerned about mental health,” according to the Feb. 25, 2013 issue of The Heights. Like UGBC’s initiatives this year, Silver Week also focused on making students aware of the resources at their disposal.

Reaching back a few decades, The Heights is littered with small articles and advertisements about mental health. A 1994 issue of The Heights, stating that “Mental Illness has warning signs,” broadcasted available mental health resources. In 1976 a small notice for a discussion, “Mental Health Matters,” was tucked into the pages of the March newspaper. Back in 1965, however, the discussion about mental health was in the forefront, as The Heights covered a Mental Health Week.

In the early winter of 1965, BC hosted the first undergraduate mental health program in New England. Sponsored by the psychology and sociology departments and the mental health clubs on campus, this event, like the recent BC Ignites, focused on raising awareness and increasing education about mental health on campus. This event had many speakers, including Saul Cooper, who worked at the South Shore Mental Health Center and discussed how officials, like policemen and teachers, could help handle mental health issues. Philip Solomon, who worked as the physician-in-chief of the Psychiatry Service at Boston City Hospital, also spoke about the origins of mental health issues, as reported in the March 12, 1965 issue.

In addition to these speakers, several films were presented, including The Deep Well, Chain of Care, and The Future is Now, according to the Feb. 26, 1965 issue. Forms of therapy were debated, case studies were demonstrated, and volunteer programs were advertised.
The objective, as stated by Dr. Robert Rapaport, the director of the Institute of Human Science at BC, was “no longer ‘fighting mental illness’ but ‘promoting mental health,’” according to the March 12, 1965 issue. This theme of promoting mental health has continued to this day, evidenced by the open dialogue about mental health and illness currently taking place on campus. “Mental illness is to be faced not only by social workers and psychologists, but also by each one of us in our contact with others,” as The Heights summarized the main idea behind Mental Health Week in the March 1965 issue.

Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Staff