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Student hopes to spread mental health awareness on campus in conjunction with Rhode Island organizat

News Reporter

Published: Thursday, March 7, 2013

Updated: Thursday, March 7, 2013 09:03

In response to the shootings in Newtown, Conn. this past January, a University of Rhode Island senior looks to bring awareness and support to people with mental health issues by implementing a National Alliance of Mental Illness club on campus.

Danielle Chasse, a sociology major at URI, has been working collaboratively with Chaz Gross, executive director of the Rhode Island chapter of NAMI. Together they have worked to help achieve her goal of making URI the first college in Rhode Island with a NAMI on Campus club.

“I got inspired to do this after I heard about what happened in Newtown,” Chasse said. “It was really hard for me to not be empathetic to whatever was going on in [the shooter’s, Adam Lanza,] mind to commit something like that. It was a clear cry for help.”

Chasse wanted to raise awareness about mental health and hopefully prevent something like what happened in Newtown from happening here at URI by promoting acceptance. After some research, she found NAMI.

NAMI is a national grassroots organization and has been in Rhode Island for 29 years. It provides support to people who are suffering from mental health issues. Currently NAMI on Campus has groups in 35 states and its goal is to provide support, education and advocacy according to Gross.

“Seventy-five percent of people who go away to college wind up with mental health illnesses,” Gross said. “It’s vital and important that [URI] have [NAMI on Campus].”

Chasse’s connection to NAMI is more than just that of a concerned, caring citizen. Nineteen years ago, at age 8, she was one of the first children to ever be treated for bipolar disorder.

“It has made it very difficult for me to go about my own life as I got older and had to explain to people what I had been through because people were so unaware of mental illness or mental health issues in general,” Chasse said. “They didn’t even look at me as a person.”

Chasse does not want other students to experience the alienation and bullying she felt growing up due to the “misconceptions and stigma” surrounding mental health issues, which is why she feels a NAMI on Campus club would be instrumental in helping college students suffering from similar problems.

“I want to raise awareness, but I also want to promote acceptance,” Chasse said. “I don’t want this to be something for just people who have mental health issues, I want people who don’t have mental health issues to be involved as well.”

Gross also has a personal connection not only to NAMI, but also to the on campus NAMI in particular.

“My motivation is an older brother who dropped out of college half way though and committed suicide; [he] shot himself in the head,” Gross said. “If I can get one person to join the club [at URI] it’s worth it.”

In addition to providing support for and raising awareness about mental illness, URI would be setting an example for other Rhode Island colleges by instituting this club. “I think it would be wonderful for the university to say they’re the first one and they would be an exemplary role model for the rest of the colleges,” Chasse said.

Despite some of the assumptions Chasse and Gross are anticipation, NAMI on Campus will not be an in for pharmaceutical companies to target URI students. “We would rather be small and poor then sell ourselves,” Gross said.

Chasse hopes that getting a NAMI on Campus club instituted will make people with mental illnesses feel more accepted.

“If there’s anything we can do to make people living with mental health issues feel more accepted and educate people on mental health issues, we could be changing the world,” Chasse said. “It’s vital and important that we have this.”

“It takes someone who’s courageous to advocate for this and Danielle’s a hero to me,” Gross said.

In order to get NAMI on campus off the ground, Chasse needs more people who are interested in sharing their experiences, becoming educated about mental illnesses and advocating for those living with mental health issues. “I would love to hear from anyone interested at Danielle_chasse@my.uri.edu,” Chasse said.

Chasse believes that more people will benefit from this club than they expect.

“Mental illness isn’t just the things you hear about on a daily basis like autism, “ Chasse said. “Mental illness can be something like stress or anxiety and college students go through these every day.”

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