Poetry slam provides community support to mental illness victims

To spread awareness of the devastating toll that mental illness can often take on its victims, the Case Western Reserve University chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (“NAMI on Campus”) recently held its annual Mental Health Poetry Slam just off campus. The event, which took place on April 14 at Happy Dog at the Euclid Tavern, featured a handful of student speakers who shared some deeply intimate poems about their own personal struggles with psychological disorders.

Depression, anxiety and a whole host of related conditions chronically afflict a large population in the U.S. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is now the second-leading cause of death among Americans between the ages of 10 and 24; in fact, suicides are more than twice as prevalent as homicides.

Some of the notable topics covered in these poems included suicidal friends, eating disorders and domestic violence. The medium of poetry seems to be particularly well-adapted for such serious subjects, and poetry recitation can often be empowering and therapeutic.

“Poetry has historically been [a] way for people to vent their frustrations with their experiences,” said Avery Lesesne, vice-president of NAMI on Campus and third-year psychology major. “We figured that [the poetry slam] would be a great way to pay homage to that [idea], and also raise money for NAMI.”

This is a sentiment shared by fourth-year Maia Delegal, founder of the CWRU chapter of NAMI and medical anthropology and cognitive science double-major. However, Delegal understands that public poetry recitation, beneficial though it may often be, is not necessarily for everyone.

“I think [public speaking] is a very good way to build a community of support,” said Delegal. “[However], I know that there are some people who get weirded out by the idea. It definitely takes time and practice.”

But ultimately, in the eyes of NAMI, the question of whether or not poetry is the best way to speak about mental illness seems less important than helping mental illness victims to break out of the shell of isolation.

Lesesne and Delegal want to make it very clear to those who are struggling psychologically that there is plenty of help available to them, if they are only willing to ask for it. They strongly encourage such people to come to one of the many sessions and activities that NAMI holds throughout the year, or at least to seek the university’s ubiquitous counseling and support services.

“You definitely are not alone,” said Lesesne. “I know how hard it may feel to seek help, but all you have to do is ask, and there are so many people who are willing to reach out and give you a hand in any way that they can.”

Delegal endorses this wholeheartedly.

“Even though [mental illness] may feel really difficult…it’s only temporary,” she emphasized. “Despite what you may think, it will get better, and there are things for you to enjoy in the future that will make up for all of the grief you’re experiencing right now.”