Using poetry to talk about mental illness

GVL / Courtesy - Emily Van Siclen
Neil Hilborn will be visiting GVSU on Friday, Mar. 31, 2017.

Emily Van Siclen

GVL / Courtesy – Emily Van Siclen Neil Hilborn will be visiting GVSU on Friday, Mar. 31, 2017.

Destiny Jones

In an effort to continue the spread of mental health awareness, the Grand Valley State University chapter of To Write Love on Her Arms has invited Neil Hilborn to campus.

Hilborn, the author of “Our Numbered Days,” is a poet who gained popularity after his 2013 slam poem “OCD” went viral. The poem tells a story of living with a mental illness and falling in love. As of today, the video of Hilborn reading the poem has gained more than 12 million views, making it the most-viewed slam poem on YouTube.

Hilborn will be on campus Friday, March 31, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons Multipurpose Room.

“We’re all about service and advocacy for mental health awareness,” said Regina Rolando, president of To Write Love on Her Arms. She said it did not take a lot for the club members to figure out they wanted Hilborn to come to campus because he has been a voice for mental health.

“Neil Hilborn is really an activist for raising awareness for mental health,” Rolando said. “His ‘OCD’ poem was so beautifully written, and a lot of his poetry revolves around mental health and living with it and interacting with other people with it.”

Hilborn holds the title of being a College National Poetry Slam champion. In 2011, he graduated from Macalester College with honors. He was a member of the Minneapolis adult National Poetry Slam team in 2011, which came in fifth place out of a total of 80 teams. Since his poem “OCD” went viral, Hilborn has been featured on NPR, The Huffington Post, Upworthy and other news outlets.

Some students are excited for Hilborn to make a visit to campus, as many of them feel they can relate to him and his poetry.

“I’m going because I think poetry is one of the most powerful ways to discuss politics, and I think Neil Hilborn does an amazing job of discussing disability in his poem about OCD,” said Maya Grant, a GVSU student. “His work moves people.”

Carly Aller, another GVSU student, thinks Hilborn’s readings resonate with his listeners on a deep level.

“Neil Hilborn is able to present information in a nontraditional way,” she said. “Not only is his performance entertaining but meaningful and relatable. This type of information delivery can reach people on another level that feels real and makes the content important.”

Kelsey Fraser, a coach for GVSU CUPSI, a slam poetry group, is also attending the event. She has a personal connection with Hilborn, as she had the chance to Skype him last year as a part of a mentoring package provided through a Button Poetry fundraiser.

“Neil’s performances are profoundly life-changing,” Fraser said. “He approaches the world with an honest, open attitude that allows others to relate to him and also acknowledge their own needs and issues. I firmly believe that everyone can write poetry, and those who attend this event will find themselves inspired in ways they didn’t know they could be.”

To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit organization here on campus that is dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide. The group’s mission is to help those in need by encouraging, informing, inspiring and investing directly into treatment and recovery.

Rolando said she thought inviting Hilborn to campus could open a door to more interactions about mental illness.

“The idea that hope is real and telling your story is important,” she said. “We kind of like to destigmatize mental illness and make it easy to talk about in our culture, in our community.