A mental health event for the “whole” student


Dr. Gerace’s students’ projects Photo Credits: Samantha Festin

Saida Hassan, Staff Writer

Edit: Article originally posted on Dec. 17.


On November 28 & 29, Student Health Services held an event called “Getting Real Inside and Out: Students Reveal Their Inner Self” in the Sunrise Plaza. The event was intended to shed light on mental health issues people face, primarily stigmas surrounding an honest conversation about the topic and the “masks” people use to hide those struggles with mental health.

This specific event, although sponsored by Student Health Services, was actually a collaboration between Active Minds, a student-run club on campus, and Dr. Veronica Gerace’s  health focus communications class. Her students were working on a project, the objective of which was “…encouraging students to normalize health seeking and talking about disclosing about mental health issues, and getting help, and just getting people to talk about mental health stigmas.” The projects also help “build their portfolios” and help students “gain the patience to disclose information”, as part of the curriculum of the course. The event reflected that. Dr. Gerace decided to collaborate with student services because she saw that focusing on mental health communication was something Student Services seeks to do as well, since that is one of the uses of Student Health Services. Mark Malebranche, the community health nurse, explained how this event came to be launched, with the help of Director of Health Services Suzanne Khambatta and Tracy Fried, a therapist that heads the Active Minds club. After Dr. Gerace contacted Khambatta, Student Health Services reserved the Sunrise Plaza for the students’ projects and made therapists readily available, including Fried. The organizers of the event hoped it would have a lasting impression on students who choose to participate. The impression they ‘weren’t’ going for was “Here’s this great event, have fun with your life”  Malebranche said. On the contrary, Student Health Services wanted students to be as engaged in the conversation around mental health after the event as they were during it.

This isn’t the first time they’ve hosted events around mental health. Suicide awareness week was held the second week of September, and Student Health Services also hosted community health event the last week of November. What makes “Getting Real Inside and Out” different is the direct conversation about the various “faces” mental health can look like.

There were 3 stations that primarily made up the event; they included a tent filled with the projects from Dr. Gerace’s students, a table of blank plastic masks that sat next art supplies, and then sessions with the therapists on hand. Although the literal painting of it was intended to be a creative outlet for students, masks also play an important theme in mental health issues. Malebranche elaborated on the significance of the event’s name. “What we show-what any of us show to the public, even sometimes our own family-isn’t the whole person. You show them the outside, you show them the mask, but there’s more to you that’s on the inside.” That’s the point of painting a mask-to show the world true feelings that might’ve been bottled up. The projects that Dr. Gerace’s students displayed actually included masks as well, masks that the students decorated in line with their perceptions of themselves.

Perhaps the point of the event was to get students engaged, but the first few hours lagged a little. Foot traffic increased around 11 A.M., sometime around halfway the event. Of course, the pizza didn’t hurt either, an “effective incentive”, according to Malebranche. On the second day, rainy weather forced Student Health Services to move the entire event to the first floor of the student services building.

For the most part, event organizers just wanted students to at least de-stress a little, which was why the event was held close to finals week. As a therapist employed by SDCCD, Fried has seen firsthand the struggle students face with depression and anxiety, and how academic pressure can be crushing. “And what happens is […] they’re struggling with getting work done, or they start having issues with presenting, and are freaking out […] And then it leads to depression because you’re overwhelmed, you’re scared, you’re also maybe not able to get other work done because you’re feeling anxious about that, and how you’re gonna get it done right. And then what happens is that confounds your depression” Fried says. The comfort tent held the following week would also be held so that students could relax, away from the stress of finals.

In addition to help from the therapists on hand, the projects that Dr. Gerace’s students made were also designed to help students. They included information related to mental health services and suicide prevention. The idea was to “[…] focus on why we maybe some reasons why students don’t disclose their thoughts or feelings, issues related to mental health” Dr. Gerace said.

Fried and Malebranche want students to be on the lookout for more events like “Getting Real Inside and Out” next semester. “Who knows what more we may do to get that. We might, we’re gonna be doing a partnership with fast scholars, a former foster youth club” Fried says.