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According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five college students faces a mental health condition. And in the era of COVID-19, it’s more important than ever that we find opportunities to have real conversations about mental health in our organizations. One of the benefits of being in a sorority is being surrounded by women who can serve as a support system in difficult times.

Mental illness is not always obvious. It can be hard to recognize when a sister is struggling if they aren’t willing to discuss it directly. Sadly, this means that many of our women are suffering in silence.

It’s crucial that we are talking about mental health in our organizations in order to foster a vulnerable environment where women aren’t ashamed to talk about their struggles. Finding space for these conversations may seem daunting at first, but it doesn’t have to be.

Here are a few places where mental health can be better addressed in our chapters:

Standards/Judicial Boards

Judicial board members sometimes get a bad reputation, but a standards meeting can be one of the best places to identify when sisters are going through a hard time. Think about how we currently treat the sister who isn’t making grades, or who has stopped showing up to events, or who drinks too much at parties. All of these behaviors can be telltale signs of mental health issues, but we often go straight to assuming they are a character flaw. If we use our standards boards as a place to check in with sisters who are showing concerning signs, we may be able to help them instead of sanctioning them. That starts with having positive meetings that focus on the woman and not the behavior.

Sisterhood Events

Sisterhood events are great for bonding with sisters you’re close to and finding connections with those you don’t know as well. Finding activities that allow sisters to open up and be vulnerable (if they are comfortable doing so) not only creates a stronger sisterhood, but also helps sisters who may be struggling with mental illness or just going through a tough time see that they’re not alone. Some of the most powerful moments I had as a collegiate happened when I allowed myself to be vulnerable with my sisters and listened to them as they did the same. Create space in your chapter for these powerful moments and you may start to see positive change.

Executive Boards

Every one of our members is an important part of the chapter, but those on the executive board serve as role models to other members, and their leadership influences the culture of their organization for better or for worse. If you are a member of your chapter’s executive board, prioritize talking about mental health in your chapter, whether that be through planning new sisterhood activities, collaborating with your school counseling center to host mental health workshops, or just opening your executive board meetings up to be a safe space for women to talk. Make mental health a priority in your organization and other sisters will likely follow your lead.

Study Groups

College is stressful. There is a lot of pressure to do well, especially since just being a sorority member comes with the expectation of maintaining a certain academic standard. Forming study groups is a great way to bond with sisters and relieve some of the pressure that comes with studying. Sometimes just knowing that others are stressed too and being able to come together to help each other succeed can relieve some of the pressure.

One-on-one Conversations

All of the above examples are great ways your chapter can come together in a group setting to address mental health issues, but another way to keep the conversation going—especially in the COVID-19 era with much less face-to-face contact with sisters—is to reach out individually. Shoot a text to a sister who hasn’t been around as much and let her know you miss her. Be there to listen to a sister who has a sick family member. Invite a sister who is feeling overwhelmed by social isolation on a socially distant walk. Just reaching out and letting someone know you care can make a huge difference.

A sorority should be a safe space for women to be open and honest about the difficulties they are facing in their lives, especially at a time in which we are all facing so many unique uncertainties and anxieties. Bringing conversations about mental health into the chapter space on a regular and natural basis will further foster this environment and provide a supportive environment for women to feel seen and heard.

Written by: Danielle McNary

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