Slam poet performance spotlights mental health

Mental health continued as a topic of discussion last week when slam poet Neil Hilborn and student poets performed during the Student Activities Board’s TruSlam event.

Neil Hilborn is a College National Poetry Slam champion and was a member of the 2011 Macalester Poetry Slam team, which ranked first in the nation at the 2011 College National Poetry Slam, according to Hilborn is also the co-founder of a Macalester literary magazine, Thistle, and participates in college and high school writing workshops with students, according to

During the show, Hilborn performed poems from his book, “Our Numbered Days,” as well as unpublished content. Hilborn discussed the process of writing and how he handles his mental illnesses in between performances as well.

In a poem entitled “Joey,” Hilborn told the story of his friend who didn’t have access to medical aid because of financial issues. Hilborn says he, personally was lucky his parents took an active role in his well-being. Hilborn had a psychiatrist to talk to and help him with his bipolar depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms so he could thrive to the best of his ability, he says.

In between performances, Hilborn told stories from his life and how he has lived with his mental illnesses throughout the year.

Hilborn also says how thankful he is to be able to have the career he does performing for students, as it gives him the opportunity to interact with others and possibly help students stuggling with mental illnesses of their own.

Members of TruSlam performed pieces, including TruSlam Vice President senior Luis Ortiz, who says he also struggles with depression. Oritz says he creates his poetry from his own experiences with depression.

Ortiz says he performed a poem titled “A Search for Happiness,” which was named because he says he is on a journey to find happiness after his friend’s death.

Ortiz says he prepared this poem because he wanted to express his raw feelings and emotions in a healthy way. Ortiz says he based the content of his poem on his feelings at the moment he found out about his best friend’s death.

Ortiz says poetry is an outlet to help him cope with depression, something he’s struggled with since he was young. Ortiz says initially he did not want to admit he had this issue that he needed to deal with.

Ortiz says his message is for people to accept their symptoms, regardless of the struggles they might be facing. He says his intent was to encourage his audience to talk to someone they trust.

“To ask someone for help doesn’t make you weak,” Ortiz says. “Instead, it means that you are human.”

Ortiz says he hopes his work reaches people, even if only one audience member identifies with what he is saying. Also, he says he hopes anyone struggling with mental health issues will recognize it and seek help.

TruSlam President senior Kate Hawkins says using poetry as a coping skill and speaking at poetry events has helped her in her struggle with anxiety and depression.

“As far as mental health goes, as someone who has experienced anxiety and suffered from depression, poetry has pushed me to feel and to cry and get out there and share with other people and I always met support in return,” Hawkins says.

Anyone wishing to speak to a professional about mental issues can contact University Counseling Services at 660-785-4014.

Hilborn also encouraged anyone interested in sharing their own stories to follow him on social media platforms.

This appeared in the Dec. 8 issue of the Index.