By Haley Foster
Students at MSUM used their creativity to paint over the stigma surrounding mental health.
Senior public relations students hosted Canvas the Change as part of an awareness campaign called MSUM 4 Change, with over 30 students attending the first event.
“We are doing this public relations campaign to spread awareness about mental and emotional health,” said Chelsea Wood, one of the event’s coordinators. “We want to see where students are in terms of awareness and educate them about how mental and emotional health affects their daily lives. We’re also doing this to promote the nonprofit organization Campaign to Change Direction.”
At the event, students generated pictures based on their perceptions of the five signs of emotional suffering: personality change, agitation, withdrawal, decline in personal care and hopelessness.
“We kicked off our campaign here on campus with this event, and it went amazing,” co-coordinator Lindsey O’Driscoll said.
Part of the campaign focuses on promoting Campaign to Change Direction and their pledge to know the five signs of emotional suffering.
“It’s important to know the five signs because then you can recognize them in others and also in yourself,” Wood said. “From there you can get the professional help that is out there.”
One of the attendees at Canvas the Change was alumna Amy Backus, who is now a database resource specialist at suicide prevention organization FirstLink in Fargo. Backus says she thinks the campaign is a fun way to raise awareness while shedding light on an important topic.
“I think it is good for people to know how to identify between, hey is this person having a bad day or is this an actual problem that they should alert someone of or get help,” Backus said. “Especially in my line of work, a lot of people call and say, ‘Hey, I think my friend might be suicidal. What do I do?’ And so many people are afraid to ask the question, ‘Are you okay?’ No one likes to think it could happen to someone they know until it does.”
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 18.5 percent of adults in the U.S. experience mental illness in a given year, and 4.2 percent experience “a serious mental illness that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.”
“(One)-half to three-fourths of our population has some form of mental illness, but because of the stigma surrounding mental illness, people don’t want to talk about it. Or they don’t want to go in and get diagnosed because that would mean there’s ‘something wrong with them’ or they’re an ‘outsider,’ even though it’s clearly a more common issue than people realize,” Backus said. She added that some people also don’t get help because they’re afraid of losing their friends and family, spouses or jobs.
Students who attended said it was a nice way to relax, get creative and educate themselves about emotional well-being.
“I think it’s great—good atmosphere, lots of fun and it’s a great way to talk about the stigma around mental health,” MSUM student Dorothy Pihlaja said. “Learning about the five signs is important because you should always be on the lookout for them. You never know who could be dealing with mental health issues. Learning the signs could help save someone.”
The MSUM 4 Change campaign wraps up on March 15. Until then, Wood says there are plenty of opportunities for students to participate and take the pledge.
“The topic of emotional health needs to be normalized. We want students to know that having a mental health condition is nothing to hide,” Wood said. “They’re not abnormal because of it. It’s also important to eliminate the stigma so that people will get the help they need. We want students to know what resources they have in their area if they do think they’re emotionally suffering.”
The group is collecting pledges at tables around campus over the next few weeks. Students can take the pledge at www.changedirection.org, post about it on social media and potentially win a ‘mental health care kit.’