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Dozens of Businesses Take 'Time' to Support Mental Health Awareness Campaign

by on April 29, 2015 6:15 AM

Stop.

Take some time to breath, to relax, to enjoy life. Take some time to think about your stress and your mental health. Take some time to think about your loved ones, and how you can support them in whatever challenges they’re facing. 

Marisa Vicere Brown, executive director of the Jana Marie foundation, wants everyone to stop and take some time to think about what "mental health" really means.

It's something everyone has, regardless of whether they're well-adjusted or fighting through a bout of depression. And, in Brown's view, it's something that most people don't take the time to consider.

“We make time to go to the gym, or to cook a healthy meal, but taking that time for mental wellness is just as important,” Brown says. “We need to get this conversation started so people are comfortable with the topic of mental health.”

And Brown, whose own sister Jana Marie committed suicide years ago, knows all too well the tragic consequence that can come from sweeping this uncomfortable issue under the rug. That’s why she’s partnered with other local nonprofits to start a massive month-long campaign across State College and Centre County to promote honest and open conversation about mental health and the stigma surrounding mental illness. 

All throughout May, which is mental health awareness month, over 40 State College businesses will display handmade stopwatch sculptures that focus on different ways to improve your mental wellbeing. Brown hopes that this visual metaphor will help everyone stop and take some time to begin thinking of mental illness in a new light.

“Having honest conversations about mental health doesn’t just apply to people in the midst of a struggle,” says Elaine Meder-Wilgus, owner of Webster's Bookstore and Café, one of the participating businesses. “We need to engage our community in learning how to be stewards of the wellbeing of our town. We all need to help each other build the community we want to live in.”

Brown’s latest effort to make State College more mindful of mental health is related to the ongoing Stompers project, in which local artists work with students and community members to build stunning sculptures from recycled shoes. The third sculpture in that project, made by students in the State High Delta program, will be unveiled at the Delta building on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.

Much like the Stompers, the stopwatches that will be on display in May were made by community members in the hopes of “stomping out” the stigma that  all-too-often prevents people struggling with depression or similar ailments from seeking help. 

“Stigma means shame, and no one should feel shame for needing help,” Brown says. “If we can start more conversations, maybe we can help each other be more comfortable when we need to reach out.”

The month-long mental health awareness campaign kicks off on Friday as part of the First Friday series of events put on by the Downtown Improvement District.

A walking tour of every business displaying a stopwatch will begin at 4:00 p.m. in front of the Fraser Street Garage, which will end with a conversation about the healing power of art at Webster’s. The New Leaf Initiative will host open conversation about mental health on a couch outside Schlow Library. 

Children and families will be able to make mandalas and do other fun activities on Beaver Avenue, and nonprofit organization Sounds will host a free concert with local musicians on Pugh Street from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. Other performances and kids’ activities will also be set up throughout downtown.

While Brown hopes people have fun during Friday’s celebration, her campaign is ultimately about making a difference in the lives of people fighting through depression, stress or other kinds of mental illness.

“By doing something like this, I hope that we can help people make sure they know the next steps if they see someone they love struggling,” Brown says. “This is about not just hearing some lecture, but giving people ways to put this knowledge into practice."

 

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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for StateCollege.com who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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