Although California State University, Stanislaus is home to numerous service-oriented clubs and organizations, there’s one project in particular that focuses on an important topic which may be hard to discuss, but can save lives.
The PEER Project of CSU Stanislaus organizes prevention and education activities to eliminate stigmas associated with mental illness, and reduce the risk of student suicide.
"This is about a culture change,” said Jennifer Johnson, LCSW, PEER Project Coordinator, “a change where individuals can begin to define what wellness means to them, and they can learn skills on cultivating that sense of wellness – learning to identify what nourishes them"
The PEER Project aims to empower students to recognize and support at-risk individuals on campus by increasing awareness, promoting wellness and acceptance and creating a safe environment where students can find relief.
“I see students experience a sense of relief when they have an opportunity to openly discuss not only their challenges, but also discuss and explore their hopes and dreams,” said Johnson. “[They realize] that their hopes and dreams do not have to end if, in fact, they are dealing with mental health challenges – but rather we together can explore healthy ways to maneuver and navigate these challenges.”
One of the foremost challenges of mental illness is the pervasive stigma present in society. Labels such as “crazy,” “psycho,” or “schitzo” are used as weapons against an individual who appears to have a mental health condition. Most unfortunate of all is the startlingly common usage of these words that serve to reinforce the stigma attached to mental illness.
Another hurdle concerning mental illness is the common misconception that it is not a real illness. This leads to the erroneous assumption that someone with an illness is “weak-minded” or “isn’t trying hard enough.” Physical health issues never receive this same treatment, as someone suffering from cancer or diabetes would not be subjected to this judgment.
In an attempt to break down these assumptions and stigmas, the PEER Project holds a number of events and workshops, in addition to giving presentations in classrooms throughout the year. By spreading awareness about mental health, the PEER Project aims to reduce stigma and make it easier individuals to seek the help they need.
The events hosted by the PEER Project are each important in their own way, bringing awareness and understanding of mental health to the masses. A recent Question, Persuade, Refer training taught attendees how to have conversations with individuals contemplating suicide, while a Wellness Resource Fair featured 20 other community organizations, all focusing on wellness – from mental health to physical and spiritual well-being
Upcoming events include a screening of “The Bro Code” in spring, which will highlight sexism, masculinity, womanizing, pornography and the ultimate question of why women are seen as sex objects in society. This event is open to all students, with refreshments provided.
NAMI: In Our Own Voice, an event structured to unmask mental illness using speakers' stories to illustrate the realities of living with mental illness, will be held on Mar. 25 at 5:30 p.m. in the South Dining Hall on the CSU Stanislaus campus. This event, as well, is open to all students.
Several other events are still being planned, among them a Healing Through the Arts workshop that will have various activities and events that surround the concept of wellness and healing through the arts. They plan to have a writing workshop, healing through painting, music and dance as well as artistic keynote speakers.
Other workshops, such as The Bystander Effect Training, a yoga workshop and One Step at a Time, an LGBTQ suicide awareness walk for youth in Stanislaus County, are being planned for later dates. Classroom presentations will occur throughout the semester.
For more information about the PEER Project, contact Jennifer Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.