Teaching Students to End Bullying, Discrimination and the Stigma on Mental Illness


In order to end the tolerance on issues affecting individuals and society everyday, we must be the voice of change and empower the victims in order to overcome those issues. That is the message that all three guest speakers wanted to project to students on November 16th.

Dr. Sheila Gersh who is the Center for Global Engagement Director asked three professors of Mercy College to be a guest speaker for Tolerance Day, a day in which students are taught about how to end the tolerance on issues going on in society. Each speaker was told to give a presentation of their own field of intelligence. They spoke about bullying, the stigma on mental illness and discrimination.

Jeehee Sung opened up the event by speaking about mental illness, what it means and the stigma that is associated with it. Sung can relate to mental illness because she suffered from a major depressive disorder in freshmen year of college. She wasn’t aware of what lead to her depression considering that there are many factors to it. She found the help she needed with family support and time out from school to focus on her health. Today she is a professor at Mercy College teaching for three years in psychology, marriage and family therapy. 

“I’m not ashamed of it, it’s made me who I am. Now I can help students that went through the same things I went through. That experience helped me be in this field”  Sung said.

Mental illness has many myths that people may assume are true one being that mental illness affects only a few people, which is not true. It is very common and it affect people of all ages, income level, culture and education. Another myth about mental illness is that it is caused by personal weakness which isn’t, it is caused by genetics, environmental and biological social factors. The last myth that many people believe especially nowadays is that people with mental illness are violent. People with mental illness are more likely to harm themselves than they are to others.

“That’s still on ongoing discussion. It’s finding a reason for those perpetrators, it’s easy to say those people are mentally ill. But there was research done that says that mental illness does not associate with violence, they are not dangerous to others but to themselves” Sung explained.

It is harder for people to acknowledge who has a mental illness because unlike physical illness, you can’t see it. “People with mental illness are just like us. I hope the students can see that mental illness is along the same lines of physical illness so we can impose any stigma or judgement towards them”  Sung said.

Kokulaba Mujunangona who is a senior and majoring in general accounting knows what’s it like to have people not understand what someone is going through. She has speech impairment since she was six years old and autism. She was put in special classes because her speech was very bad.

“ Mental illness is a strong issue in society. People don’t find it serious. They look for an excuse to deny it or hide it. Having speech impairment is hard. My professor talks too fast and I can’t understand him, I don’t think he notices that I can’t observe all that information when he talks fast” Mujunangona  shared. 

The stigma that mental illness is not as serious as other illness is one of the major problems that it faces. It’s looked down upon and many victims are to blame for an illness that they cannot control. Sometimes they aren’t even aware that they are mentally ill, just like Sung wasn’t aware of her depression.

Anna Gedrich who is the Director of the School Professional Workshop Program teaching teachers on how to control a situation that involves bullying. “I think people who haven’t experience these situations, say you can just brush it off, you’ll be fine but don’t realize how much it effect the person” Geresh explained.

The impact of the stigma can make a person reluctant to seek help or treatment. Not having the support or understanding of their family, friends, co-workers, among others can make them feel outcast or alone. Having mental illness can also mean getting fewer opportunities in school or social activities and having trouble finding a job or a house. Getting bullied or harassed can also be a problem due to the stigma on mental illness. The belief that they won’t succeed or improve their situation is very common. Individuals with mental illness can also suffer from negative effects of the disorders.

In order to stop the stigma on mental illness, people should be willing to talk about mental health as well as learn and share the facts about the illness. Encouraging equality between physical and mental illness so people know that in both cases the person is hurting. By knowing about the treatments they can reach out and seek help. Raising awareness about mental illness is very important because not a lot of people are familiar with the effects it has on the individual, their family and the people around them. They aren’t knowledgeable about the myths and truths on mental illness. Through education and attending events like this one, people can increase the awareness by learning and listening to experts in that field.

“If we know what causes it and the treatments, people can understand that this isn’t a characteristic flaw, it’s an illness just like a physical illness. Tell your journey because there is nothing to be ashamed about. Talk about it openly so people can feel comfortable to share their condition and hopefully end the stigma” Sung said.

Chelsea Kuo who was the second guest speaker is a sociology teacher who spoke about discrimination. Just like Sung, Kuo has her own personal story that connects to her topic of presentation. She started her speech by sharing a story that happened about 6 months prior to the event in which she was discriminated during her yoga classes. As she entered her yoga class, she put her belongings in a table in which everyone puts their belonging in. But as she was getting ready to start her classes, a white woman insulted her by saying ‘get your dirty Chinese laundry off my bag.

“I felt embarrassed, ashamed and angry. I wanted to yell at her but the class was about to start. The whole time, I was thinking how I should address the situation. The reason why it hurt me was because I buy into it. I would feel less hurt if it was someone below me but because she was white, I felt less than her and she had more power over me.” an emotional Kuo said.


Kou had time to think before she did or say anything. She kept questioning herself while she was in her yoga class, ‘Why did I see her as a dominant group? Why not see her as just another person?’ Instead of giving the woman the power that she think she has, Kuo decided not to approach her but instead leave with her head held high and slightly nod at the woman. Although, it wasn’t easy to do that, Kuo thought things through before she took any action. The nod came from a place with no anger, it was a way for Kuo to show the women that they were both equal, what the woman did, didn’t effect Kuo even if it hurt her inside. She felt sorry for the women’s lack of education but didn’t hold her lack of education against her.

“Maybe I didn’t do good  by not confronting her but I saved myself from not being the victim, I felt that I was higher. I’m not my race, I have more qualities in me so putting my race against me doesn’t hurt me. I nodded at her because I don’t want to hold anything against her” Kuo said.

Geresh thought it was a remarkable response from Kou’s side. She believes that by Kou responding that way, she gave the woman a positive impression of her and the people that associate with her race and culture. By not yelling and confronting her, it showed the woman that she didn’t win, she didn’t have the power to make Kou feel small and let it get the best of her even if it made her mad and upset.

“ If she would have yelled it would have reinforced her impression of her and have negative feelings of her culture. That reaction probably surprised her, she was probably expecting her to yell but she didn’t, which I thought it was remarkable” Geresh mentioned.

Mujunangona thinks otherwise.“She should have confronted the person in a nice way and tone. One on one, not in front of people. Ask the woman why she discriminated against her? ”

Although both agree that confrontation could have been an option. Kuo feels that by confronting them, it already shows that they had a power over you.

“ We are not just a victim. We are a victim because we acknowledge and rectify that hierarchy. Thinking back in the yoga class,I kept thinking do I discriminated against those people. My plan was to scream at this person but I didn’t want to be like her, I don’t want to be the one to discriminate against people for their lack of education or weakness. I want to be kind and equal to this person”  Kuo said.

Studies show that less educated people tend to discriminate others. ‘The lack of education and not being aware that everyone is equal, reflect on who they are, not on who we are. Discrimination is not a problem for us, it’s a problem for them because they are the ones who see differences in people, not the ones being discriminated but of course it’s those who are being discriminated that get hurt” Kuo explained. 

Geresh believes that people are not willing to change unless they personally understand what it means and until they have a personal connection to the issue from another person then they will understand that everyone is equal.

“Connecting to people is very important, getting out of your comfort zone and seeing how it feels like to be in someone else’s shoes in order to understand them. Creating a climate where discrimination is not acceptable. Where you shut those things down and people learn to be respectful”  Geresh said.

What does Kuo suggest people to do regarding to discrimination?

“We need to stop feeling victimized and start feeling empowered. We need to find ways to stick up for ourselves. In order to end discrimination, one must not believe in someone else’s hierarchy. When you already have the mindset that someone has more power than you, then you start to let them overpower you. The colonizers successfully makes the colonized feel that they don’t belong. If you take the power away from the colonizer, your free”  Kuo advised.

The third and last speaker was Dr. Ilene Rothschild who is the associate professor of Mercy College. She spoke to students about bullying and how to prevent and end it. She spoke about DASA which stands for The Dignity for All Students Act. The act is intended to protect students from discrimination and bullying in a safe environment.

“We want to know what is going on in school and in the community to try to prevent bullying from occurring. It’s not only teachers that need to be trained but everyone else because it works as a team” Rothschild said.

Rothschild showed the students a video about how to help someone who is getting bullied and how to stick up to bullies. She gave the students statistics on how many students report bullying and those who don’t. The statistic are from 2013 to 2014, 22% of children report the bullying while 79% of children don’t report the bullying. When things don’t get reported, it can escalate to depression or even suicide. Sometimes bullying situations are left unnoticed because many people don’t come forward to report the bullies.

“ Unfortunately a lot of people don’t report those situations and that’s a problem. We want to encourage them to feel comfortable and report this types of things so we can do something about it. Knowing that there is help when they need it” Geresh informed.

Bullying doesn’t only affect the person getting bullied but also the bully. Students who bully have an increased amount of academic problem and may lead to taking drugs or having a violent behavior. Students who are being bullied are at risk at doing poorly in school, have difficulty sleeping and may lead to being depressed or having anxiety.

Geresh, who specializes in the field of having teachers connect with their students and prevent or stop bullying from occurring, knows that her job is very important and could save lives.

“My job is to make sure that bullying doesn’t happen here. We take it very seriously, we have six hours with the students and it’s not enough time to do a ton. But we can at least reinforce some ideas about what is the key in the process. Students feel hopeless in the point where they don’t know which way to turn and that should not be the case” Geresh said.

Bullying comes in many shapes and forms. It can be physically, mentally and emotionally damaging for a victim. It targets anyone, the way they look, dress, speak, belief, etc. It happens in school grounds most of time but with the increase of social media, cyber bullying has become the number one strategy in targeting victims. Cyber bullying is done behind a phone screen or in a computer, done with the intention of hiding their identity and given the freedom to write any negative comments about someone else without facing any consequences.

“ It’s easier for people to be anonymous with all these apps. When your anonymous, people feel brave to do things and that they will never say face to face. They have some sort of freedom behind a computer or phone screen than in person” Geresh informed.

Geresh knows a lot about these struggles students face when they are being bullied because she has had personal experience with bullying, being on both sides and with her knowledge and experience she tries to help the students.

“I was bullied as a kid and sometimes I the bully. I can relate to that pretty well. I spend most of my working job focusing on issues like this, that relate to education, that talk about discrimination and bullying. It’s really important to me that I’m involved in this in a professional way” Geresh explained.

Mujunangona who was also bullied during middle school by people talking behind her back and in high school because of her speech and autism, throughout these years she only had a few friends and didn’t have someone to lean on. She believes that by communication, bullying can decrease and people can start to branch out and speak up.

“ Students don’t address bullying in the right way, they need to talk to the bullies to stop the bullying and not deny the situation. Right now I am trying to interact with the person that bullied me to try to come in terms with each other” Mujunangona said.

All these topics and issues come together in a way that it relates to one another. They affect people in the long run if they don’t seek the right help and treatment. Bullying goes hand in hand with the stigma on mental illness and discrimination because both leads to someone getting bullied. Or if you’re mentally ill, you can be discriminated. All these three issues join together and manipulate people into thinking that someone else has power of you because of things that you can not control. You can’t control our skin color, race, gender, religion, all the things that make you who you are.

People try to bring others down by the things that they can not control which makes them feel that they have the power over somebody but that isn’t the case. It goes back to education and learning about mental illness, bullying and discrimination. People are not educated and tend to be on the negative side of the spectrum. It’s within you to change that around and not be willing to give them the power that they want over every else. Everyone needs to come forward and acknowledge these issues but also not buy into the hierarchy because then you are under this mind twist that someone has more powerful than an individual and you need to knock that down.

“The event helped me a lot, people need to have self-control. It was powerful and strong. I felt relieved and encouraged to speak up and I am going to speak up more. I’m glad I went to this event, it made me realize that I need to be more aware of my surroundings” Mujunangona said.

In order to change the world’s view on these issue, it’s important to change your views on what you were told about these issues. Considering that everything seems to lean towards negative, you must try to make the world a positive and kind place.

“ We want to have a respectful society. One in which people can be who they are and feel like they are safe being that and know that people will not treat them bad or in a negative way. We should be aiming for it, that should be our goal. The change comes from each individual doing something”  Geresh concluded.