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Several student groups at the University of Cincinnati hosted social media campaigns last week targeting mental health — a timely reminder as the U.S. celebrates its annual Mental Illness Awareness Week.

But the Bearcats Support Network (BSN), a student-run advocacy organization, is determined to continue promoting mental health awareness at UC all year long.

“BSN has brought me so much positivity,” said Charles Atchison, a founding member of BSN and a current group leader. “[It] is, without a doubt, the best thing I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of.”

BSN was founded to enable students to open up about their experiences and engage in honest dialogue with their peers about mental health. It operates as an additional form of support to traditional therapy.

The program recognizes that people often turn to their friends in times of need, which is often easier than reaching out to a counselor.

BSN holds weekly group meetings where students can discuss mental health in a welcoming and comfortable environment. Each meeting is led by two or three group leaders who have been trained by both UC Health and the Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) division.

“We officially became a student organization second semester of last year,” said Michael Charlton, a third-year liberal arts student and the director of BSN.

BSN began hosting weekly meetings last spring and continues to do so this semester, Charlton said. Each week, there are four meetings on campus — one in Swift Hall and three more in Baldwin Hall.

Meetings are held Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays to give students the flexibility to attend, despite busy schedules.

“Each week we have these meetings, so basically peer support and essentially share whatever is on your mind,” said Charlton. “It’s basically just a place to kind of get things out of your headspace.”

The meetings have significantly impacted those involved, Atchison said. He highlighted the program’s direct impact on his mental health and well-being.

“I have definitely gotten a lot out of it,” Atchison said. “When I go to group, I know that I can come in and I can be open as I want to, [and] I can withhold anything I want to.”

This is the first year Atchison serves as a group leader. The growth in membership each week, he said, is inspiring.

“Experiencing it is really an emotion, and it’s so hard to describe,” he said. “Once you experience it, you just know what it’s about. For me, just going to the meetings, I just get so much positive energy from talking and being vulnerable with peers and people that I see as my friends and see as people I can trust — that they will be my support, and I can be their support.”

To learn more about Bearcats Support Network, click here to visit the organization’s website.