NAMI at California Lutheran University aims to bring mental health awareness to students while reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness. NAMI was officially recognized as a club by the Associated Students of California Lutheran University Government at the start of this year and is endorsed by the California National Alliance on Mental Illness.
NAMI is the nation’s largest non profit mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for Americans affected by mental illness, according to its mission statement. It offers a state-regulated campus-to-campus program that allows students at universities to operate as official mental health clubs using the organization’s name, acronym and logo.
“It’s often a topic people choose to avoid and not talk about because of the stigma surrounding it. I think reducing stigma in a college campus is crucial because we tend to ignore our mental health because we are afraid of what people might think about us,” said junior Elizabeth Valladares, NAMI club president and psychology major at Cal Lutheran.
Though relatively new as a club, NAMI at Cal Lutheran is already participating in events and activities on and off campus. Last week, the NAMI club tabled at the International Women’s Fair on campus and two weeks ago, they assisted with and participated in Cal Lutheran’s Suicide Prevention Walk. The club has also collaborated with Counseling and Psychological Services on several programs, including the Love Your Body event and its annual fall depression screening seminar.
Valladares said that the club has more events planned for this and the following semester, including a NAMI walk and other educational opportunities on mental health.
“I plan on spreading awareness about our club by collaborating with CAPS and other clubs like psych club who are more recognized by students. As of now, there will be tabling events, possibly a de-stress event for the end of the semester and mental health first aid certifications in the future,” Valladares said.
Valladares said she wanted to start a club on campus to educate students about mental health and reduce the stigma around it. As a former Peer Educator at Santa Monica College, Valladares said she wanted to continue her work on mental health awareness as a transfer student at Cal Lutheran.
“I came to CLU wanting to bring the peer educator program to campus. However that involves a lot of training for students and faculty, which then I thought, ‘Why not come up with a club?’ and NAMI was the one that stood out to me because their quest is to help those who suffer from mental illnesses,” Valladares said.
NAMI club adviser Linda Boberg, who is the assistant director at International Student Services and Multicultural Programs and also a teacher for NAMI, talked about the importance of promoting and facilitating mental health and well-being on campuses across the U.S.
“The problem is it’s [mental health problems] on the increase, not just at Cal Lutheran, but at every school in the country and there aren’t enough people to [help],” Boberg said. “We’re on the beginning parts of students taking the bull by the horns and saying, ‘Okay, I want to help, how do I do this?’ And for the psychology students it’s great, cause it’s what they want to do.”
Senior and NAMI Club Vice President Breanna Halverson said that the club’s purpose is about “educating, advocating, listening and leading.” She is a psychology major and her biggest passion in life is helping others and mental health.
“Mental health plays an important role in our everyday lives. It is a part of who we are, yet it’s taboo within most societies,” Halverson said. “Look at this campus—it’s filled with students who are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, anxious and depressed due to stressful and challenging situations they may face, yet are told they have to be OK on top of everything else.”
Valladares said that her dedication to NAMI at Cal Lutheran and educating students about mental health stems from her passion for mental health and psychology.
“Mental health is something I want to work with in the future and I’m hoping to earn my [psychology degree] and become a clinical psychologist for college students,” Valladeres said.
Despite being a national non profit organization, the Cal Lutheran NAMI Club is free of fees and dues for students who want to join, and anyone interested in mental health can become a member.