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November 1, 2007

   

BMC Mental-health Advocates Win Award

Penzo
Katharine Penzo '09

The Bryn Mawr chapter of the mental-health-advocacy organization Active Minds on Campus is just a year old, but it has already assumed a position of leadership among the 81 chapters on campuses around the nation. Last Saturday, chapter founder Katharine Penzo '09 accepted the Most Innovative Programming Award, one of only three annual awards the organization presents, at Active Minds' national convention in Washington, D.C.

Penzo, along with Amy Gordon '09 and Meredith Boyd Sisson '09, had been invited to present at a "best practices" workshop at the conference by Alison Malmon, the founder and executive director of Active Minds. Their presentation focused on the Bryn Mawr chapter's celebration of the first annual National Stress-Out Day last spring.

The event, held during exam week, served to promote awareness of stress and anxiety disorders at the end of the semester by encouraging students to take time out for relaxation and fun. In The Lusty Cup, Canaday Library's student-staffed café, members of Active Minds hosted a five-hour chillout session featuring Play-doh, finger painting, coloring books, bubble blowers and toys.

"Our theme was 'revert to childhood,'" Penzo explains.

The National Stress-Out Day party was one event among many that the group has hosted in the last year. Its goal is to increase awareness of mental-health issues on campus, provide information about resources available to students, and encourage students to seek help when they need it.

"We try to host an event every three or four weeks," she says, "and we have weekly meetings. We have between 15 and 20 active members, and there are about 40 people who are subscribing to our list-serv."

Penzo and company have organized discussion panels featuring professionals from the Bryn Mawr Counseling Service and faculty members from the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research; screened popular films with mental-health themes and hosted discussion sessions afterward; and hosted lighthearted events that use humor to bring attention to serious issues. An example is a recent National Day Without Stigma event at which visitors to the Campus Center were invited to "stamp out stigma" by trampling a carpet-sized expanse of bubble wrap.

A critical step in bringing students and mental-health providers together, Penzo says, is the effort to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental-health issues. The group's high visibility and full schedule are important in creating an atmosphere in which discussions of mental health feel comfortable and normal.

The national organization clearly appreciates the Bryn Mawr chapter's efforts. Aside from the award for innovative programming, the chapter's success has earned Penzo a spot on the national student advisory committee.

Penzo, a psychology major with a concentration in gender and sexuality studies, plans to study both law and psychology after graduation.

"I'm interested in advocating for children and families who are affected by mental illness," she says. "That might be in the area of patients' rights or in the juvenile court system."

In the meantime, Active Minds continues to invite the Bryn Mawr community to join the conversation about mental health. On Friday, Nov. 30, the group will sponsor a benefit for the Forteniters Club, a Montgomery County agency that helps people affected by mental illness adjust to independent living in the community and provides for friendship and mutual support. The event will include a raffle and a silent auction of items donated by local businesses as well as artists and craftspeople in the campus community. Beginning at 7 p.m. in the Campus Center, there will be performances by several campus groups; representatives of the Body Image Council and the National Alliance on Mental Illness will be on hand to distribute information and answer questions.

 

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