For project creator and University Counseling Center staff member Juliet Meggs, the handwritten affirmations — “it’s okay to ask for help,” “you’re allowed to be angry” and “everybody has bad days” — fluttering outside the Union on Monday served multiple purposes.
“It’s pretty powerful to share your truth and what feels real for you,” Meggs said of her Destigmatizing Mental Health Photo Project, in which students attached their messages of validation and acceptance to a clothesline. “It’s great when other people read these and see that other people have to ask for help … But I think a lot of times, when people write, ‘it’s okay to ask for help,’ they’re telling themselves that as much as anyone else.”
Meggs’ project is part of ASUU’s Mental Health Awareness Week, a new effort to support students with mental illnesses by improving understanding and fostering a supportive campus climate.
“The purpose of this week is to diffuse some of the stigma associated with mental health,” said Senior Class Vice President Kha Nguyen. “We want to tell students that it’s okay to have mental health issues and that you’re accepted for it.”
Nguyen spent Monday afternoon distributing “stress and sleep” kits (small bundles of sleepytime tea, stress management tips and various other goodies) while overseeing Mental Health Awareness Week’s two multi-day projects: the stress ball activity and the memory wall. In the former, students place a stress ball in one of several bins labelled with common symptoms and struggles — grief, loneliness, guilt and shame — before taking a second stress ball to keep.
“We are, at the same time, gathering data and showing students what their peers are struggling with,” Nguyen said.
The other week-long effort, the memory wall, will honor students and their loved ones who have struggled with mental health or lost their lives to suicide. As the names of living people are welcome on the wall, Nguyen called it less of a memorial and more of an honor.
“They don’t have to have died,” Nguyen said. “We’re just honoring them for what they’ve gone through and what they’ve lived through.”
Mental Health Awareness Week will continue through Friday with panel discussions, keynote speakers and hands-on training in recognizing mental health issues and suicide threats. A complete list of events can be found at www.asuu.utah.edu/mentalhealth.