Many students on campus are carrying around more than just heavy textbooks. Not only burdened by the pressures of fitting in, and keeping up high grades, some students are facing hidden adversity made worse by the effects of stigma.
With the support of Otsuka-Lundbeck Alliance, we were able to give two deserving students who have overcome societal and self-stigma a scholarship to put towards their post-secondary program of choice. One of our two scholarship winners, Ruzzelle, began having mental health issues in high school but didn’t believe that getting help from a professional was an option.
“I almost failed my first year of University”, she says, “and it wasn’t until I started to see somebody later on that I could slowly get a handle on just living.” Mental health wasn’t something Ruzzelle’s friends in high school talked about, and like many families, hers did not talk about mental illness in a constructive way. “When I told them I was depressed, they wanted to take me to Disney Land because it’s the happiest place on earth! They just wanted me to get better and they didn’t know how.” Eventually, her family offered her the financial support to see a counselor.
The counseling sessions helped Ruzzelle become aware of her self-defeating thoughts, self-stigma being among them. She spent years struggling to simply get out of bed, but for a long time, felt that it was a problem best handled alone. Now Ruzzelle says, “I feel like the anxious thoughts are more manageable now, I think because I’ve had all this practice, time and support.”
Now that she has the support she needs, Ruzzelle is completing a Masters Degree in Speech-Language Pathology. “I’m entering a field where I’m going to be able to help other people go through their own journey of stigma which is amazing. I never thought I’d be able to do that.”
We asked Ruzzelle how it felt to receive a scholarship based on her experiences of overcoming stigma and she responded, “I felt very supported. I heard all this bad news in the media all the time, but hearing what one non-profit is doing for students about stigma is amazing. One of the good pieces of news that I need.”
When asked what she would say to other students suffering from the effects of societal or self-stigma, Ruzzelle would like them to know that, “You’re not alone in your journey. All it takes is one person to really listen to you and it can be life changing.”