Student mental-health group grows


Brittney Peterson lost her aunt to suicide three years ago. Then she lost five friends.

The University of Iowa sophomore psychology major has seen the effect of mental illness firsthand. And the lack of understanding following the passing of her friends ignited her interest in psychology and made her want to make the plight of the mental ill less stigmatized.

“You have a disease … it’s no different from cancer or heart disease,” she said. “Your attitude’s not a part of it.”

This year, she restarted the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. And all signs pointed to a thriving organization as students gathered to watch a movie Thursday night.

After a year of relative dormancy, approximately 40 UI students attended the first meeting of the semester, and the group’s e-mail list now includes more than 80 student recipients.

The group has a broad mission but a simple message.

“[We want] to educate people on the illness[es and] close the gap between the educated and the uneducated,” said Peterson, the president of the organization.

According to its website, the group aims to improve the lives of students affected by mental illness and increase awareness.

The organization is active in every state, and it reaches more than 1,100 communities.

In a 2008 survey, the American College Health Association found 30 percent of college students had difficulty functioning because of depression. Almost half of students surveyed said they felt overwhelming anxiety, with 10 percent receiving diagnosis or treatment for depression.

Sam Cochran, the director of the University Counseling Service, said organizations such the National Alliance are essential to communicating effectively with distressed students.

“It promotes on a much more peer-to-peer basis that it’s OK to get help,” he said. “It’s just priceless in terms of the work it does and the outreach.”

Stigma is a recurring problem for mentally ill students and their families, said UI spokesman Tom Moore.

“Anything that can be done to bring attention to this issue is helpful,” he said.

Moore lost a brother to suicide following a long struggle with mentalillness.

“He worked very hard to conceal [his illness] from people he knew,” Moore said.

Now, Peterson and group Vice President Tessa Short, a sophomore, have big plans for the organization. In addition to a movie series, the organization will also host regular meetings, a support group, and a fundraising walk.

The group is planning more than 20 events for the remainder of the semester aimed at raising awareness and offering support.

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