Tuesday night the Trojan Campus Center Grand Ballroom was buzzing with activity and excitement with the advent of the fourth annual Slammin’ Down the Stigma Poetry Slam. The poetry slam, hosted by the USC Health Sciences Program, focuses on creating a conversation on mental illness and health on campus.
It is estimated that about 11 percent of college students suffer from anxiety and 10 percent from depression. Additionally, 64 percent of students who take a break from college due to a mental illness never end up returning. These numbers show the importance of removing the stigma from mental illness and having open discussions about it.
The event featured nine student performers whose pieces covered a variety of topics such as battling with depression, anxiety and other phobias as well as domestic abuse, self-acceptance and anger management. A professional freestyle poetry group and a headline performer concluded the show.
The first performer, Jay Dent, known as Jay-So-Jay on stage, performed “The Sickness.” In her poem she spoke about her anxiety and the importance of getting treatment for mental illnesses.
“You say ‘hi’ to your friends while someone is wishing they had friends,” she said, showing the audience her personal experience with anxiety.
Alex Luu, the president of Slam SCene, a spoken word poetry club on campus, was another performer. His moving performance brought to light his father’s experiences in Vietnam and how they caused problems during his childhood and his relationship with his father.
“My father tells me to punch him back, to validate my emotions with this next blow. ‘Son, go ahead, hit me,” he said, highlighting his father’s struggle with dealing with Luu’s emotions. “I knew very little of his past and so much of his presence.”
Mahima Shah Verma, a junior majoring in history, recited “Spokesperson,” a poem about her eating disorder and the journey of self-forgiveness she has gone through over the past eight years.
“When you talk about mental health and stigma, people misinterpret it. But it is not a stigma when your hear people around you going through the same things,” she said.
Verma also stressed the importance of artistic expression for everyone, not just those suffering from a mental illness.
“Everyone has so much stress they’re going through everyday, it’s completely normal to go though,” Verma said. “People need a place to share personal experiences.”
The headlining act for the program was 17-year-old Mila Cuda, a poet, activist and photographer. She won second place at the National Book Festival’s Poetry Slam at the Library of Congress last year.
At the event, Cuda performed different poems that focused on her father’s battle with depression, the romanticization of mental illness in today’s society, her relationship anxiety, the problems with the American college system and even a poem told from the point of view of Van Gogh’s ear.
In her poem “Spilled Milk,” she highlighted the importance of ending the romanticization of mental illness, stating that, “I am not a problem, you do not need to fix me. Love me with my sickness, not because of it.”
“The Price We Pay,” Cuda’s poem about the American college system, discusses issues of which most college students are painfully aware.
“Slammin’ Down the Stigma” is part of the Academic Culture Assembly’s programming series for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Month, which focuses on self-help and self-care.
More events, such as lectures and a resource fair, will occur throughout the remainder of October.