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Poet Niel Hilborn, tells a poem towards the end of his performance in the Axe Library on Thursday, Mar. 12. Hilborn’s last poem for the night was about the last communication with the Oppurtunity rover on Mars, the poem was titled "Oppurtunity, Wake Up!" Caleb Oswell

Poet discusses mental illness through spoken word

For many university students, depression and anxiety may be issues that they struggle with. The Gorillas Activity Board (GAB) tries to schedule events focused on highlighting these issues on college campuses and giving students resources to help them through these struggles.  

One event GAB held that dealt with the issue of mental health was hosting poet Neil Hilborn on Thursday, March 12 at 7 p.m. in the Leonard H. Axe Library. 

Hilborn performed a variety of poems during the set. The poems ranged from humorous to more serious poems discussing issues of mental health. 

“I have certain poems that go in every set…,” Hilborn said. “I don’t write a set list until I get to the venue and see what it’s like… I design a set list I think others are going to connect to. I know I gotta do the hits then I think (about) what’s going to connect them together the best that the audience is going to like…” 

Hilborn tries to let the audience know he transitions from humorous poems to poems of a more serious nature. 

“I try to signal over and over, ‘Hey, this is what we’re doing, this is what we’re going to do,’ so people are ready for me to do the hard poems…,” Hilborn said. 

Sumner Mackey, GAB issues and ideas committee chair and junior in political science, helped organize the event and wanted an event that would discuss issues colleges around the country face. 

“We always talked about how we wanted to bring in a spoken word artist to talk about mental health, mental issues, depression and anxiety…,” Mackey said. “So, we were looking at a few different spoken word artists, and we kind of realized that with Neil we can kind of get two birds with one stone, because not only does he talk about mental issues but… he’s also a male.” 

Mackey believes it was important to have the artist give a perspective of mental illness as a male. 

“…There’s this stigma out there where men can’t feel emotion other than happiness or sadness or like they aren’t allowed to feel certain ways because that’s not manly or masculine and so we thought that bringing in Neil would have that impact of anyone can feel any way and that’s okay,” Mackey said. 

At the event, there were tables set up representing the Bryant Student Health Center and its counselling services and student group ‘To Write Love on Her Arms” (TWOLA) to provide resources for students battling mental health. 

“I wanted people to leave here knowing that if you’re going through something… there are ways out and ways to get help… and they’re not alone…,” Mackey said. “I hoped everyone would walk away feeling just a little bit better about their situation and have a little more hope than when they walked in.”  

Hilborn said half of the performances he gives are at university campuses and he believes it is important to perform for students as he benefited greatly from attending similar events while he was a student. 

“I really benefited when I was in college from people doing exactly what I’m doing, like I felt so isolated and weird that having other people get on stage and say something I related to just for a second made me feel not alone, and just that moment made me realize like they were dealing with something and found a way out so maybe I can too,” Hilborn said. “So, I’m just hoping to give someone else that moment of hope and not feeling totally alone all the time.”  

Ali Youngblood, graduate students in technical and professional writing, attended the event and were “super stoked” to watch him perform, especially because it was about mental health. 

“I’ve listened to his poetry online (and) I’ve watched his videos like a hundred times over,” Youngblood said. “Talking about mental health kind of normalizes and takes that stigma away from having an open conversation. So, if we’re willing to talk about it or someone’s willing to make a joke here and there and make it feel a little more lighthearted then I think it makes people feel in a new place to want to talk about it or reach out or at least go talk to him… in the hopes that’s going to push them to have that open discussion with someone else.” 

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