Marcus Anderson, a junior at the University of Mississippi, first realized he was dealing with depression at age 19 during college.
“It kind of took a long time for me, actually, even when I was a child,” he said. “When I finally got on my own when I went to college, I realized that, throughout my whole life, I was going through depression.”
Today, Anderson is a member of a new student organization on the University of Mississippi campus called Mental Health Matters created to combat mental health issues experienced by African Americans and other members of minority populations.
The purpose is to create awareness about different issues students face daily on campus and elsewhere and show them they are not alone.
Mental health conditions do not discriminate based on race, color, gender or identity. However, African Americans are 10% more likely to experience serious psychological distress, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. Approximately 30% of African American adults with mental illness receive treatment each year, compared to the U.S. average of 43%.
Gregory Rodgers created the group after experiencing mental health challenges. He wanted to shed light on mental health issues faced by African Americans.
“There was not enough representation on campus of mental health organizations that help minorities, especially with anxiety or depression,” Rodgers said. “They give you areas to go to, or places to go to, but I wanted my organization to be a safe haven for people to come and talk in.”
Mental Health Matters does not judge, and encourages everyone to leave all negative thoughts at the door so the atmosphere can be light and free. This may help those who attend let their guard down.
“Mental health is a big problem in our society, especially with people in my age group,” Rodgers said. “We see a lot of people commit suicide and harm themselves because of mental health issues, which is another reason this was started to have people come in, open up, and make it an open book for everyone to talk about their problems.”
Mental Health Matters was created for minorities, but it does not exclude others.
“I put mainly minorities because I know many ethnic groups have trouble with mental health issues,” Rodgers said. “I know it’s hard to go somewhere and see someone who does not share the same color as you discussing something, and you feel as though you cannot relate.
“I wanted to have an organization where it doesn’t matter if you’re black, brown, blue, pink. I wanted to have an organization where we could all come in and talk so everyone would feel comfortable.”
Mental Health Matters holds a silent drop box event every two weeks. Everyone in the room places a note in the box after they write down a problem, fear, or thought anonymously. Then, each person each pulls a note from the box to read aloud, and the group discusses and gives advice on that issue and overcoming it.
“I do the slip box to make everyone incorporated in the conversation instead of just focusing on one person and letting one person speak the whole time,” Rodgers said. “I wanted everyone to incorporate and feel welcomed.”
Other upcoming events include speaking at different schools in the Lafayette Oxford University community with the goal of spreading mental health awareness and coping methods early. They also plan to hold a cookout for members later on.
“We have a lot more in store, and we’re new,” Rodgers said. “We want to see what everyone likes and go off of that.”
Anderson overcame depression and decided he wanted to fight to make things better for himself and others.
“This organization actually is helping me and anyone who comes to it,” he said. “Just a space for anybody to get things off their chest, because maybe they don’t have anyone to talk to or feel comfortable with.
“Maybe the person they talk to doesn’t come from the same background as them, so just being in a space with other people who are just like you and being comfortable to speak about anything is really helpful.”