Active Minds ‘Outspoken’ event brings awareness

Unity Week student-led open mic event allows survivors to tell their stories


Anna Malesiewski, Features Editor

Active Minds, the student-led mental health awareness club at Gannon University, hosted “Outspoken,” an open mic event that offered students the opportunity to share their mental health experiences, on Friday evening.

Katie Dickey, a senior social work major, president of Active Minds and lead planner of the event, said “Outspoken” was inspired by the work of “Inside Our Minds,” an organization originating in Pittsburgh.

“We were taking submissions anonymously and having other students read them on behalf of the writer — it was awesome and very moving, but I kept hearing from students that they wanted to tell their own stories,” Dickey said.

“The inspiration behind ‘Outspoken’ comes from the belief that we cannot have a more equitable and just approach to mental health without first hearing stories from those impacted by this topic. Stories are powerful, and art, music and poetry are the catalysts to deeply rooted social change and empathy.”

This year’s “Outspoken” event is a model of “Online and Outspoken,” a similar virtual event that Active Minds put on at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Outspoken” was open to students, faculty, staff and community members alike.

“This event was unique in that it was targeted at anyone who was ready and willing to hear our message,” Dickey said.

Dickey hopes that as a result of “Outspoken,” members of the Gannon community will come together and speak up for mental health and survivors of mental illness.

“Hope comes from community, from connection and from voicing our needs for change,” Dickey said.

“The best thing we can do is listen, and then act with those who struggle, not for them. I hope this event helps our campus think outside the box about mental illness, mental health and hope.”

Dickey also said that speaking openly and honestly about mental health is one of the best and only ways to access a shared understanding of the topic.

“It is not until we unite together in our hopes, or fears, and our visions that we can move forward in our collective journey toward a broader understanding of mental well-being,” Dickey said.

Writing and speaking are great ways to do this, said Dickey.

“However, beyond the ability to tell our stories is also the ability to listen to others’ stories and share in the empowerment of people with mental health concerns,” Dickey said. “In our clubs, classrooms and workplaces, we must be willing to make space — physically, financially and emotionally — for the inclusion of those with mental health concerns.”

Sophia Mavica, a sophomore psychology major, said that while the event was intense due to the pressures of opening up in front of strangers, it was important and worthwhile.

“I can only become less afraid of my mental illnesses if I talk about them,” Mavica said. “It’s an essential part of my recovery.”

Bogdan Borisenko, a senior physician assistant major, agreed that sharing aspects of his story was important to showing support for those with mental health concerns.

“I know the importance of speaking on mental health awareness and was surprised by how comfortable I was sharing a bit of my story through ‘Outspoken,’” Borisenko said. “The more we talk about mental health concerns, setbacks or achievements with trusting individuals, the less stigmatized these conversations will be.”

Mavica also said that this event was an opportunity for members of the Gannon community to offer support for those with mental health concerns.

“It’s difficult, things can get ugly, but we depend on others for support to get through life,” Mavica said.

“I remember the utter despair I fell into when I first got diagnosed. I want to show people that they are not alone in having these feelings and to help confront something that can be so terrifying in a clear way.”

Borisenko also said that he hopes that the event was able to bring about a sense of hope and community.

“Although no two people have the same experiences, the emotions that can be brought out of difficult times can be similar,” Borisenko said. “Finding community is so important in recognizing that one isn’t alone and that working through negative experiences and processing trauma is something that can be shared to help inspire others.”

Sharing stories like these is what helped Borisenko feel less alone in difficult moments.

“It was only after I began to reach out to others and heard pieces of their stories that I began to feel less overwhelmed and as though I could get through those tough moments,” Borisenko said. “I share my story in hopes that someone else begins to feel that they can share theirs with me, and in turn feel more connected with their surroundings.”

To help others in telling their stories, Borisenko said that showing up for them and establishing deep and meaningful bonds are the first steps.

“Part of establishing a connection that extends beyond the superficial is learning about how the other person can be best supported,” Borisenko said. “It really is personalized, but support is crucial for a sustainable, healthy relationship with another.”

While the event was originally planned to occur in October, it was expedited so that it could be included in Unity Week, the week leading up to homecoming at Gannon.

“I was in awe of how quickly and wonderfully our speakers acted to get ready and get involved — they are truly movers and shakers,” Dickey said. “This event itself has been in the works for a month and a half, but it is part of a larger movement that has been gaining momentum for years at Gannon.”

Dickey said that while she would love to plan another event like “Outspoken,” her time as president of Active Minds is running out. Dickey is currently in her last semester as both president of Active Minds and as a student at Gannon.

“I know in my heart that it is time to hand off this group to the next generation of activists, and I am excited to do so,” Dickey said. “I hope to be present and able to help the next leaders of Active Minds decide the best ways to help their peers’ voices be heard.”


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