Student-led project aims to curtail mental health stigma
As a New Student Enrollment orientation leader, Jared Long stood in front of a group of incoming undergrads and shared a troubling statistic — a third of all college students are struggling with mental health at any one time.
Researchers say that number is on the rise. The 2018-2019 Healthy Minds Study, which uses a nationwide sample of college students, found that 36% struggle with depression and 14% have had suicidal thoughts. Nearly one in three reported anxiety disorder.
Also alarming: 47% of students in the study perceived a public stigma around the issue, agreeing that “most people would think less of someone who has received mental health treatment.”
Long, internal vice president of ASUN, and Sierra Hassel, vice president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, hope a new campaign, the Bandana Project, will help battle that perception at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln by provoking conversations about mental health and promoting resources available to help students.
“The goal of the project is twofold,” said Long, a junior political science and journalism major. “One is awareness, and two is de-stigmatization. And I think they go hand in hand because awareness leads to de-stigmatizing by having the conversations.”
The campaign will officially kick off during the Husker men’s basketball game against Michigan Jan. 28. Volunteers will distribute green bandanas and mental health resource cards to students at the game. A video message from student athletes on the importance of mental health awareness will also play in the arena. The students will be asked to tie the bandanas onto their backpacks as a symbol of allyship with those who have mental health concerns.
“The green bandanas are a very visible way to show we support our peers who experience mental health concerns — both by being a resource in helping them get connected to support, but also just in continuing the conversation so as to make sure that everyone feels comfortable discussing the topic,” Long said.
The project will distribute 1,800 bandanas to students through booths located at the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center, Abel-Sandoz residence halls and Hawks Hall on Jan. 29.
Hassel, a senior Husker gymnast and accounting and management major, reached out to ASUN representatives to launch the project on campus. Hassel was inspired when she and members of SAAC’s mental health subcommittee saw the campaign succeed at other Big Ten schools. The Bandana Project originated at the University of Wisconsin in 2016 and has expanded to campuses across the United States.
Since planning started, other campus entities have joined the Nebraska partnership: Big Red Resilience and Well-Being, Counseling and Psychological Services, Out of the Darkness UNL, and the Residence Hall Association.
“We want it to have the widest reach possible,” Hassel said. “We want to make strides in ending the stigma and showing that there are resources to help.”
For Hassel, the project is personal.
“I see mental health issues affect people in my life every day, in my sport and other sports,” she said.
Long said the effort aligns with work ASUN has previously done to help raise awareness and increase resources for mental health on campus, including a allocating additional student fees for expanded counseling availability through Counseling and Psychological Services and the University Health Center. The increase in funds allowed CAPS to remove the limitation of number of visits.
“Students on this campus really do care,” Long said. “That was a student-led movement to restructure those funds. There is an understanding among students at Nebraska about the importance of conversations regarding mental health.”