Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Student campaign promotes mental health

Amy Ryan’s BIO101 General Biology I class poses, showing the palms of their hands painted bright green as a symbol of their pledge in support of self-care.

By Aleksandra Sidorova 

Sixteen SUNY Plattsburgh students have dedicated themselves to leaving no member of the Plattsburgh community behind. They believe no one should have to struggle with mental health alone, or simply “deal with it.” 

A student-run campaign promoting mental health awareness called #HealWithIt has been reaching out to every club, organization and department on campus, encouraging them to pledge support for self-care. The #HealWithIt team also hosts meetings every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Posts showcasing community members’ palms painted bright green have been filling the campaign’s Instagram account. So far, #HealWithIt has reached about 60 campus entities in the past six weeks it’s been active. The group said its hope is that the photographs taken will eventually be compiled into a mural to be displayed at the Angell College Center. 

One of the trickiest populations to reach has been student-athletes, according to Rachel LaMar, one of the students part of the campaign. LaMar, an athlete herself, said athletes’ schedules are full with games, practice, class and road trips for away games, making it “super hard” for them to participate in extracurricular activities or attend consistent meetings. 

According to a survey published in March by Healthy Minds Network, “one of the nation’s premier organizations” researching mental health in adolescents and young adults, 44% of college students experience depression, 37% experience anxiety and 15% have felt suicidal — an all-time high. The National Collegiate Athletic Association published a study in May 2022 in which 38% of female college athletes and 22% of their male counterparts “reported feeling mentally exhausted constantly or most every day.”

LaMar has also been the force behind the founding of SUNY Plattsburgh’s chapter of Morgan’s Message, an organization dedicated to supporting student-athletes’ mental health. LaMar said it “really made sense” to combine her work as a Morgan’s Message ambassador with #HealWithIt. As such, she is able to provide students with the mental health resources she receives from Morgan’s Message as well as those on campus.

“It’s also been nice to be going out to the clubs and classrooms and introducing myself to other students and kind of getting my name out there,” LaMar said. “I do want to be a face that people recognize because I do have access to a ton of resources that I can point people in the right direction to, or just help out when needed.”

Michelle Ouellette, associate professor of public relations and the campaign’s supervisor, said #HealWithIt originates from a campaign with the same name and green hand symbol that SUNY Plattsburgh students entered in a Public Relations Student Society of America competition in 2017. Now, it is being revived with $40,000 from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. Some of the 16 students behind the campaign are volunteers and some are in Ouellette’s event planning class or the social work department, while others were hired by the college to come up with creative ways to connect students to its mental health resources.

Provided by the #HealWithIt Team

Members of PFunk, the ultimate frisbee club, pose after pledging their support for #HealWithIt. They are Derek “Tarzan” Ferguson, Tanner Sokol, Jonah “Moby Flick” Gray, Brian “Sausage Party” Muller, Miguel “Mr. Clean” Diaz and Sasha Baker.

One of #HealWithIt’s main messages is that self-care like mindful eating, physical exercise and social interaction should be as intuitive as treating physical ailments.

“We encourage those who are hurting physically to go to a doctor and get help — we believe that anyone who is hurting mentally and emotionally should also have access to the support they need,” the #HealWithIt for Mental Health page on the SUNY Plattsburgh website reads.

It turns out that painting palms green attracts curious students to the campaign, and at least one student — Jonah Gray — has asked to apply the bright paint to his foot. Other ways #HealWithIt has been making itself known include giving out freebies like stickers, badges, cards and T-shirts, applying clings to campus mirrors, tabling at the ACC and planning a Self-Care Summit for tomorrow, May 6. The timing of the summit coincides with the approach of finals week, and May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

Programming for the summit will span from noon to 7 p.m. Students intentionally planned events corresponding with each of the eight pillars of wellness identified by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: physical, emotional, social, spiritual, intellectual, environmental, vocational and financial. The pillars reflect that every aspect of life can impact one’s mental health.

Anannya Poddar, an international student from India, said she resonates with the emotional pillar of wellness most. She said she is still in culture shock since she arrived in Plattsburgh in January and finds it important to be emotionally healthy while facing extreme changes in her diet and education. While Poddar takes care of her mental health by speaking to her counselor back home, she thinks everyone “should know where to go” to get the support they need on campus.

“I love helping people,” Poddar said. “I love it so much.”

Poddar said that when she returns to India for the summer, she “would love” to bring with her the knowledge she has gained working for #HealWithIt, in hopes of helping her friends. According to Poddar, conversations around mental health in India are less public than they are in the United States.

Poddar, as a biomedical sciences major, was interested in working on #HealWithIt because mental health falls under healthcare. Additionally, she has noticed others miss class due to poor mental health.

“It breaks my heart,” Poddar said.

Poddar introduced #HealWithIt to her friend, Saanvi Moryani. Moryani has been an advocate for mental health since high school, when she did community outreach for a variety of underprivileged communities in Jamaica. 

“I feel like that was something that really gave me this mental peace, and it made me feel good about myself, trying to help people who need it,” Moryani said.

Moryani sees support for mental health as a “basic need that people should have access to.” Instead of focusing on a certain population, like LaMar, she prioritizes inclusivity. She said the group planned the events for the self-care summit in a way that would allow anyone to participate, regardless of their age or ability. For example, those who can’t participate in dance or yoga can practice meditation, and there will also be programming for children’s self-care at Sibley Hall from 1 to 4 p.m.

The students behind the campaign, Ouellette and Wellness Coordinator Zane Bazzano said the plan is for #HealWithIt to become a more permanent entity, such as a club or campus organization, next semester.

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