Stigmonologues provide safe space for student stories

By Kathleen Zarro
Correspondent

Upbeat pop music amplified throughout room 212 of the Education Building on Oct. 23, as five students prepared to share their personal experiences with mental illness.

At the front of the room, a presentation displayed mental health statistics, inspirational quotes and information about places to seek help.

The Stigmonologues, hosted by the College’s Counseling and Psychological Services peer educators, was designed to provide the College community with a safe space to share personal stories about mental health.

For individuals who struggle with mental illness, the journey is never easy.

Gabby DeVito, a sophomore biology major, continues to take steps in the right direction. Talking about a hospital in-patient treatment program, she said she “strives every day to not go back there.”

As a high school freshman, DeVito felt extremely overwhelmed and didn’t know how to handle it. What began as stress and anxiety soon turned into a struggle with anorexia.

DeVito found comfort in numbers — something that had always made her happy. It was this obsession that led DeVito to meticulously count calories to stay in shape.

“I became obsessed with the numbers on the scale. Numbers consumed my life,” DeVito said.

With the support of professionals, her mother and a strong social media community, DeVito was eventually able to get back on her feet. 

Karl Weiskopf, a senior political science major, also had a strong support system as he battled with anxiety as a college junior.

“My roommates knew something was wrong,” Weiskopf said. “My girlfriend knew something was wrong.”

Weiskopf’s roommates and girlfriend were tremendously concerned for his well-being and reached out to his parents to tell them that he needed help.

It was then that Weiskhopf’s parents decided he would take a semester off from school.

Students find comfort in sharing personal stories. (Meagan McDowell / Photo Assistant)

“I learned more or just as much about myself then, than I did those previous two and a half years of school,” Weiskopf said.

During treatment, Weiskopf learned how to effectively cope with his symptoms and found multiple ways to relieve his stress.

“Engaging in these conversations (about mental health), I think, is the thing to do to combat this national mental health crisis,” Weiskopf said.

Alyssa Spagnuolo, a sophomore elementary education and iSTEM double major, also offered advice to students who are dealing with mental illness.

“Surround yourself with people you love” and “let yourself breathe” when things get to be too much, Spagnuolo said.

Spagnuolo uses these strategies to overcome her depression, a condition she has been dealing with since high school.

Every individual who struggles with mental illness has a different experience.

Unlike many of the other presenters, Alexia Guzman, a sophomore secondary education and English dual major, began to experience symptoms when she was just 10 years old.

At a young age, she would experience periods of intense sadness that were followed by periods of incredible happiness. Eventually, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and her symptoms began to make sense.

To cope with this, Guzman threw herself into art and writing prose and poetry. Today, Guzman continues to use her passion for art as a coping mechanism.

She also believes that “adversity is a catalyst for growth” and that life’s challenges are not meant to keep her down. Guzman lives everyday with this motto in mind.

After each speaker delivered a powerful presentation, many students were moved by the event. Shannon Garcia, a senior psychology major, thought Stigmonologues successfully provided a safe space for students.

“This is a great way to raise awareness (about mental health),” Garcia said. “One takeaway that all the speakers touched upon was coming to terms with their story.”

Kevyn Teape, a junior marketing major and chair for the Stigmonologues, was also inspired by the presentation.

“We owe it to each other to listen to each other’s stories. If we don’t talk about (mental illness), these issues will go unaddressed,” Teape said.