Ending the stigma: Mental health awareness at UMD
Mental health has long been regarded as something of a taboo subject in our society. It’s not talked about the same way physical health is. After all, you may ask someone how they broke their leg as a casual conversation point but asking a friend how they handle their anxiety is not small talk. Because mental health issues are often regarded as “invisible illnesses,” awareness is low. However, there are UMD students looking to change that.
YOUmatter is a student organization on campus “that focuses on suicide prevention and ways to end the stigma against mental health conditions.” Kalynn Tilton, president of YOUmatter, offered her opinion on how the perception of mental health is shifting in society.
“I definitely think there is more talk about it now than there ever was,” Tilton said. “It’s still like trying to get the word out.”
However, Tilton thinks that many UMD students are unaware of the mental health resources available to them on campus.
“I think a majority or a good chunk of campus is unaware that YOUmatter is here, Access For All is here, counseling is here, Health Services is here,” Tilton said. “We have resources in Duluth and Superior that are extremely helpful.”
Students can join organizations like YOUmatter and Access For All to find a safe space to discuss matters that are important to them, like mental health or disability resources. UMD’s Counseling Services page emphasizes that “feelings such as anxiety, anger, depression, low self-esteem, or tension are a normal part of being human and can affect anyone.”
Aside from external resources, there are ways students can take charge and learn to care for their own mental health.
“First thing is definitely focusing on yourself,” Tilton said. “Finding those extra little things that you enjoy, going for a walk, coloring. For me it was finding someone that I trust the most and being able to talk to them about everything.”
At YOUmatter meetings, there are self-care activities students can take part in, like making stress balls, listening to music and having game nights. Students learn not only how to advocate for their own mental health but for others struggling as well.
“We're trying to be there for others,” Tilton said. “We know a lot of people are struggling. Everyone knows in the group, and we reiterate it every time, that if you need to talk we're here and we can send you in the right direction. We're kind of here as the middleman to help those who might not be ready to take a big step to reach out completely.”
If students are looking to become advocates for mental health awareness, the Student Association has a new mental health visibility campaign called Band Together.
Student Association’s Systems Admin Director Jefrina Jayaraj provided context for the campaign.
“We have these goals that we developed at the beginning of the year and […] one that’s always mentioned is mental health, so that's something that we all really want to work for,” Jayaraj said. “We came up with the Band Together campaign. It's a visibility campaign for mental health. It's a start of discussions.”
Student Association has designed red and gray wristbands for students to wear. The red symbolizes that you identify with a mental illness and the gray is to show that you are an ally to those with mental illnesses.
“We just wanted to say that whether you're experiencing it or whether you're an ally mental health has affected you,” Jayaraj said.
Student Association had the first event of its Band Together campaign called Mental Health Through a Cultural Lens on Thursday, Feb. 21. The wristbands will be available at all Student Association events and they are also in the Student Association office for students to pick up.
At the end of the day, Tilton emphasized the importance of checking in on not only your quiet friends, but your strong ones as well.
“Check on your friends who seem good,” Tilton said. “They could be hiding it.”
A genuine “How are you?” and taking a moment to show that you care could make a difference in someone’s life.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. There are people who want to help.