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‘Make It OK’: Mental health initiative aims to reduce stigma

BEMIDJI -- There were six card games underway in the room and each was being played with a different set of rules. But only one person in the room knew that. At the end of each session, the person who won the most rounds had to move to another table.

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Shawn Campbell, left, and Miriam White play a card game at “Make it OK: Talking About Mental Illness,” on Wednesday at BSU’s American Indian Resource Center. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- There were six card games underway in the room and each was being played with a different set of rules.

But only one person in the room knew that.

At the end of each session, the person who won the most rounds had to move to another table. So did the person who won the least amount of rounds. Meanwhile, no one was allowed to talk to anyone else.

While everyone at the six tables was undoubtedly confused at one point or another, that was largely the point. At the end, the workshop’s administrator, Kelly Brevig, let everyone know what was happening.

The exercise was part of the event “Make It OK: Talking About Mental Illness,” which was held Wednesday at BSU’s American Indian Resource Center. The workshop was meant to bring awareness to the issue of mental health and the stigmas that often go along with it.

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“Our point of reference coming into a situation is different for everyone,” Brevig told the group to illustrate the point of the exercise. “We have different things that make us unique -- and especially when it comes to mental illnesses. If we don’t understand what anxiety is or what it looks like, we might be really quick to judge and go ‘this person doesn’t have the rules.’”

Brevig works with Evergreen Youth and Family Services and is also part of the Headwaters Alliance for Suicide Prevention. The Alliance completed a community needs assessment last year. As a result of that, the group decided to focus on mental health and stigma reduction. That’s when they coordinated the Make It OK event.

So throughout the afternoon, Brevig led the group, which had about two dozen participants, in a discussion about what mental illness includes, the stereotypes surrounding it, and what people can do to help others who may struggle with it.

Amanda Gartner is a counselor for the BSU Student Center for Health and Counseling. She said having events like Make It OK can help people think differently about mental illness, which she compared to physical illness.

“With mental illness, you label them -- they’re depressed; they’re anxious,” Gartner said. “This is helping people understand: No, this is what people are living with.”

Brevig oversaw an earlier Make It OK workshop in December at Beltrami County Electric. She described it as “an event in a box,” and said she would like to see others take it up as well to help further the initiative of mental health awareness.

Recent BSU grad Shawn Campbell said he came to the event because of his own history dealing with mental health issues, which caused him to hit a low spot in college. Looking back, he said he’s not sure he would have been able to succeed in his new career if he hadn’t addressed those issues.

“It’s definitely helpful to talk to people about mental health and what I’ve dealt with,” Campbell said. “I want to use it to learn how to help other people… let them know that it’s OK to not be OK and destigmatize mental health.”

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Event coordinator Kelly Brevig, left, leads an activity at “Make it OK: Talking About Mental Illness,” on Wednesday at BSU’s American Indian Resource Center. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

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