By Kacey Suvada
At the start of my third year of graduate school, I realized I needed to do something to help further mental health awareness. As someone who has a mental illness, I can speak towards the fact that until I reached graduate school, there was very little I knew about mental illness and maintaining proper mental health in general. In high school we had a couple talks on suicide prevention, but there was not a curriculum that included substantial mental health awareness and education.
Society as a whole would benefit if we change the way we talk about mental health. We need to start the conversation earlier and normalize conversations about mental health which will in turn change the attitude and stigma surrounding mental illness.
After doing research on several different organizations in Chicago, I decided to reach out to the Chicago chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). When I’m not working on my degree, I volunteer with NAMI as a speaker for Ending the Silence, an initiative in which people with mental illness speak to high schoolers about mental health and their personal mental illness journeys. Through my outreach I hope to educate high school students, connect with them so that they can take steps earlier on, and help them navigate any mental illness they may be combating. If students begin to connect with the presentation, they can take steps earlier to navigate through their illness and hopefully get help sooner than I did if they are indeed facing a mental illness. Through my outreach at NAMI, I speak to high schoolers in Chicago public schools and tell my story of how I got to where I am today and how I’ve dealt with my mental health issues while balancing relationships and graduate school. I hope to be a part of a new normal where students of all ages are educated about mental health so that when they have to deal with these issues, they have the information and resources they need.
Organizations like NAMI are beginning to gain ground in educating younger generations so that we start the conversation earlier. Seeing younger adults and high school aged kids freely discussing mental health gives me hope that things are changing for the better.
Kathleen (Kacey) Suvada is a third year PhD Candidate in the Neuroscience PhD program at Northwestern University. She studies motor control post stroke in humans and how a stroke impacts activities of daily living. Kacey takes part in various types of outreach including working with elementary school kids and teaching them basic scientific principles, educating high school teachers about the field of neuroscience and how they can teach their students about the brain, advocating for gender equality specifically in STEM fields, and speaking about mental health awareness in high schools around Chicago. Kacey hopes to continue these passions beyond her time at Northwestern as she pursues her career.