Disability Awareness Month Kicks Off with Speaker

Photo by Nicole Williams

Kicking off Disability Awareness Month, Ramapo hosted acclaimed speaker Hakeem Rahim, who spoke about his difficult journey since his diagnosis with bipolar disorder I in 2000.

It may seem that Rahim, a graduate of both Harvard and Columbia, had a smooth experience during his college years: yet, many were surprised to hear about the tough time he had in school.

Rahim found himself being pulled from the carpeted floors of his sophomore year dorm room into a psychiatric ward. After a few manic episodes, in which his friends were prompted to notify his parents, his whole life took a sharp turn. However, after his diagnosis, treatment and a year and a half leave from Harvard, Rahim found the best way to return his life to normality.

Depression is the number one leading cause of disability worldwide, states the World Health Organization. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, approximately one in five adults in the U.S. experience mental illness in a given year. Rahim is the NAMI Queens/Nassau Let’s Talk About Mental Illness presenter, and hopes to reverse the stigma that surrounds depression.

Since 2012, he has been enlightening thousands of middle school, high school and college-age students about depression. The basis of his presentation focuses on the overarching mantra, “transforming what it means to have a mental illness,” and three subsequent points, “it’s okay to talk about it,” “there is no shame in seeking help” and “there is hope.” 

At Ramapo, he discussed the importance of accepting the truth about mental illness and the desire to reach “the best me.” By rejecting common myths associated with mental illnesses, he argues, we can increase acceptance and also lessen social stigmas behind them. 

“We at Active Minds believe that it’s imperative to raise awareness of mental illnesses and erase stigmas on Ramapo’s campus. We as a student body have the power to achieve these goals,” said Active Minds club president Melissa Mitariten.

Along with stamping out stigma, seeking help in the form of treatment may be a very difficult but extremely rewarding part of the process. Campus resources such as counseling, medication, advisors and support groups are just some of the many forms of treatment available. Along with these structured methods, there are also many coping mechanisms available to each person that can ease the difficulties that come with living with a mental illness.

Rahim strongly advised finding the right coping skills that work for the individual. Some of the important ones that he mentioned are diet, exercise and spirituality. 

“This world is uniquely different because you’re in it,” Rahim said, driving the presentation home with a strong message of hope. It took him 15 turbulent years to find his life purpose and mission.

This fall, Ramapo is proud to celebrate Disability Awareness Month with Hakeem Rahim and other acclaimed speakers and events throughout the month, including a student panel and open discussion on experience with mental illness in college.