Health & Wellness

USU Statesman: 'Mental Health is No Joke' Aims to Combat Stigma

(Graphic from the USU Statesman online)

The Student Life section of Utah State Today highlights work written by the talented student journalists at Utah State University. Each week, the editor selects a story that has been published in The Utah Statesman or Utah State News Service (formerly The Hard News Café) or both for inclusion in Utah State Today.

USU Statesman: ‘Mental Health is No Joke’ Aims to Combat Stigma

By Whitney Howard in The Utah Statesman, Sunday, March 20, 2016

The second annual “Mental Health is No Joke” week at Utah State University has “quadrupled in size,” said Ty Aller, the graduate studies senator for the Utah State University Student Association.

Aller, who co-founded the event last year, is excited to see “Mental Health is No Joke” take on its own life.

“It’s actually been very fun because everyone from the academic senate, to the executive council, to the entire university has gotten on board,” Aller said. “Now you feel a community start to get behind it, rather than just a single person.”

Among other individuals and organizations, Trevor Sean Olsen, the president of the USUSA, has “put all of his resources behind it and made it his baby, too,” Aller said.

“For me, when I started working on things this summer and trying to get some direction for the year, I realized there was a problem around mental health with the amount of suicides and attempted suicides on campus,” Olsen said.

Events kicked off on Saturday, March 19, with the Out of Darkness walk. Last year’s event included a guest speaker, workshops and a benefit concert. These traditions will continue this year alongside new events.

The Hope Wall will be open throughout the week. Students can take pictures with Polaroid cameras, write the name of a person who has helped them in their lives and hang it on the wall. The Hope Wall is a joint effort between Olsen and Thomas Rogers, the Athletics and Campus Recreation Vice President.

“The Hope Wall is something that’s going to be visually engaging for people to participate in, to see that everybody has been through something and that we all have a chance to make a difference in somebody’s life,” Olsen said.

Rogers is excited to not only “brand the HURD’s image in a positive light,” but also to help Aggies outside of the arena.

“That’s what we’re about. We just want to enhance the Aggie experience, and that’s what the HURD is,” Rogers said.

Light the Night has a similar theme, Aller said. Participants can write the name of an individual who struggles with mental health — or a personal message if they themselves are struggling — and send it alight into the night sky.

Throughout the week, there are multiple workshops. These include yoga and mindfulness sessions, suicide prevention training, anxiety and sensitivity training, and a fair that features multiple mental and physical health resources on campus.

There is also a benefit concert, which requires a standard composition notebook for entry. At-risk patients use composition notebooks to complete their therapy exercises, Aller said.

Mental Health is No Joke” features multiple guest speakers. The keynote speakers are representatives of To Write Love On Her Arms, a non-profit organization that works to present hope and find help for those struggling with depression, addiction, suicide and self-injury, according to the official website.

Other guests include Salif Mahamane, a doctoral student of psychology at USU, who will share his research and personal experiences with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Mahamane will mediate a student panel, who will talk about their own experiences with mental health.

“What we’re really trying to do is just facilitate conversations around mental health, so people can feel like they can come out of the woodwork and actually talk about it and not feel like they need to hide,” Aller said.

All events have an underlying theme this year: “Stand Up to Stigma.” Olsen said there are two key reasons for the theme. First, people who have never experienced mental health issues in their lives can better understand those who do. Second, people who struggle with mental health will know how to find resources and a community of people who have gone through similar experiences.

Madison Maners, the public relations and marketing director for the USUSA, adds that Utah State has a tradition of caring for each other as an “Aggie family.” Olsen and the USUSA are not only working at USU but also within the Utah Student Association to decrease mental health stigma throughout the state.

“It’s so incredibly rewarding and emotional to work with people who have a vision and are willing to put in the time, energy and hours to make that vision a reality,” Maners said. “We hope that students can get on board with our cause and with our mission, and we’ll be able to see long-term benefits as a result of these incredible individuals.”

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