The World Health Organization reported that rates of depression and anxiety have gone up by over 25% during the pandemic. Workers all over the world are citing deteriorating mental health as the top reason for leaving their jobs amidst the great resignation. Research has shown that disabled students are the least represented group in business schools. These shocking disparities in the workplaces and schools can often be traced back to schools not providing students with adequate resources. Most schools have an enormous gap when it comes to affinity groups and clubs that address the needs of students who are disabled or live with mental illness. Payal Mehra and Nicholas (Nick) Ducey-Gallina, MBA1 students at Stern, are on a mission to fix this. They started Enable Stern, a disability and mental health awareness group focusing on the social model of disability. While the traditional medical model focuses on the individual’s impairments and medical disabilities, the social model focuses on recognizing barriers that make life harder for people with different needs and breaking those barriers to provide everyone with more choice and control. I had the opportunity to chat with both of them about the club and here are the highlights of our conversation below. Answers edited for clarity.
What is Enable Stern about?
Nick: A lot of students often feel like they don’t have access to the information, the people, or the resources they need to be successful. Enable Stern wants to help bridge that gap in different ways: formal events, bringing in professionals to talk about stress, mental health, mental illness, or even more basic things like how to navigate the often complicated health insurance system as someone with complex medical needs.
What got you interested in starting this club?
Nick: A part of it is driven by my own experience and my family’s experience. My mother was a physical therapist who owned and operated her clinic for children with both mental and physical disabilities. I also have a lot of my own disabilities. I have many invisible ones that have complex medical requirements to help care for. This meant I’ve needed special accommodations in school since the age of seven. It’s something that has mediated my entire school experience. And I’m sure many reading this article can relate.
Though people often think of invisible and visible disabilities as different, there’s not a distinction between the two. Physical mobility challenges and mental illness challenges are both under the same umbrella and require the same things like access, resources, understanding, and community.
Payal: I did my undergrad at NYU and noticed an opportunity to better provide mental health resources to the students. A few years ago when my friend founded a mental health organization, Generation Mental Health, I joined to lead the marketing team. Working with this amazing team and my passion for healthcare marketing led to my interest in starting Enable Stern. When I met Nick and realized we shared this common interest, we got to work.
What is your long-term vision for this club?
Payal: It’s important to first say that we’re not hoping to fix everyone’s struggles overnight or change everything completely. I think we really want to make everyone’s day a little bit better and support those who feel like they don’t have the support system.
Having a community where people just feel supported is huge for me. The fact that mental health and wellness was something that was not even talked about during orientation showed me that a club like Enable Stern could play a key role in creating this community and more clearly providing students with the access to resources they need.
How would you reimagine the workplace to be inclusive to people with different needs?
Nick: I want to imagine workplaces where people feel valued and welcomed. I believe one of the beautiful things that communities like these foster is a conscious understanding that you alone are insufficient to know what is needed for entire communities–it really must be a collective group-thinking decision process for it to be accessible to as many people as possible.
Payal: It’s important to have communities at the workplace that focus on the mental health of the employees. One thing we discuss in Leadership in Organizations is how empathy is one of the biggest pieces of being a good leader. Understanding that even if you can’t see or relate to a disability, being empathetic and supportive is so important.
What can students do to get involved with Enable Stern?
Payal: You can start by signing the petition for our affinity group. We are open to all opinions and ideas and would love for everyone to join. We want to get going quickly! We are planning on conducting our first event very soon and would appreciate the help of anyone interested. If there are any other clubs that are interested in partnering with us, that is something we are excited to explore as well!
To close out, do you have any media recommendations for our readers?
Nick: A wonderful book I recently finished–We are Not Broken: Changing the Autism Conversation, written by journalist Eric Garcia, looks at autism and the ways its perception has changed in the United States.
Payal: I use the app Headspace a lot because I find it so calming. I like to prioritize my well-being at the end of the day, and I go to Headspace for that!
If You Need Help
NYU’s Student Health Center offers virtual counseling for anything you need to talk through. There is also the 24/7 Wellness Exchange hotline and app. Using Wellness Exchange, you can talk or text with a counselor no matter where you are. Find every NYU mindfulness resource and media right here.
- The Crisis Text Line provides free, confidential, 24/7 support to people experiencing a crisis. Students can text HOME to 741-741 to connect to a crisis counselor.
- The Lifeline provides 24/7, free, and confidential support for people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Call 1-800-273-8255 to connect with a local crisis center.