Sara Benincasa, comedian, blogger, and author of “Agorafabulous!” visited West Chester University to speak to students about mental illnesses.
Benincasa’s speech took place Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. in Sykes 005. A representative of the Department of Counseling and Psychological Services of WCU introduced her, and encouraged students to visit the center.
Benincasa said she came to “talk about mental health in a way that is accessible, and that makes the conversation more acceptable.” As a comedian, she told her story of dealing with mental illness in a humourous way and encouraged students to ask questions throughout her speech.
Benincasa discussed her experiences with mental illnesses; she is diagnosed with panic disorder, depression, and agoraphobia, or the fear of leaving one’s home.
She told students that she had her first serious panic attack in high school on an Italy trip, but chose to ignore it.
She then had a mental breakdown in college, where she later realized that it was due to her agoraphobia. Translated literally from Greek, it is the fear of the marketplace. She assured students that she was not afraid of the marketplace, or the mall, and pointed out her “awesome red cowboy boots.”
She said that college is a tough time. For her, college triggered a breakdown in her junior year. She stated that since she had no help, she decided that there was something wrong with the places outside of her home and that she should not leave. She did not want to deal with her phobia, as many others are apt to do.
She said she stopped going to class and eating, and spent most of her time sleeping. Her friends eventually intervened and called Benincasa’s parents who assisted her in getting the help she needed.
Now 31, Benincasa is pursuing her career. She visits colleges to speak about mental illnesses, is working on having her second book published, is going to be a part of a Discovery Channel program, and is a stand-up comedian.
She told students about the importance of getting help if one ever feels depressed, “I would take advantage of the counseling center, and offer to go with your friend if you notice that they may be feeling down,” Benincasa said. “I also find that first person stories are really helpful in convincing someone that it is okay to get help.”
Benincasa also said there is only so much you can do for a friend. “You do your best as a friend, but if that person is resistant, well, some people have to hit bottom before getting up. That’s how I was. So don’t feel bad if you can’t help your friend right now. Just give them space,” Benincasa said.
For students who are interested, the Department of Counseling and Psychological Services is located in 241 Lawrence Center, and is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. during the weekdays.
Colleen Cummings is a second-year student majoring in English with a minor in graphic design and journalism. She can be reached at CC763510@wcupa.edu.