Students are adding a splash of colour to the mental health conversation.
At an information session on Wednesday, January 27, the executive board of the mental health awareness club (MHAC) announced that this semester the club will offer a series of events supporting mental health as part of the Yellow Umbrella Project (YUP). Started by the College Student Alliance in 2013, YUP is a national campaign to bring mental health awareness and support to post-secondary institutions through student-run projects, events, and activities.
MHAC project manager Aneet Bains says she first heard about YUP at a Canadian Conference of Student Leadership session. She was inspired to bring the project back to UFV, where she partnered with MHAC to bring it to life.
“I found [the MHAC executive] to all be very likeminded and passionate about increasing awareness,” she says. “This is where our project started.”
At the information session, Bains presented a list of upcoming events that will be run under YUP this semester. Although there are no dates set yet, the plans include mental health screening days, a colouring day, a ball pit, a dance in the dark, a games night, a carnival, and meditation on the Green.
But what does a yellow umbrella have to do with mental health?
Bains explains that yellow is an uplifting colour that evokes hope and happiness, while the umbrella symbolizes shelter from stigma and shame.
“The mental health struggle is really real … And we don’t understand that, and sometimes we live in denial,” Bains says. “But we’re here to provide the yellow umbrella to talk under.”
YUP’s mission is similar to that of MHAC, including goals such as diminishing the stigma surrounding mental illness. “If you align the two they mesh very nicely, and that’s why I brought the project to MHAC executives,” Bains says.
There’s a reason mental health is a frequent topic of discussion at university campuses; according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, suicide causes 24 per cent of deaths among 15- to 24-year-olds, and 16 per cent of deaths among 25- to 44-year-olds.
“Mental health affects one in four people. Nine out of ten people with mental health problems experience stigma and discrimination,” Bains says. “Mental illness is the single most disabling group of disorders worldwide, and we really need to understand it and start making a difference on our campus.”
Existing mental health initiatives at UFV include mental health and screening days, therapy dog sessions, workshops such as the Study Smart series, and free counselling services for students. Self-help resources are also available on the counselling department’s web page. However, Bains says that many students don’t know what’s available to them.
“Not a lot of students know about resources, not even the counselling department. I, for one, did not know there were counsellors available to talk about anything,” she says. “There are a lot of resources at UFV that are essentially being unused because people don’t know about them, and we’re hoping that we can spread awareness through our committees.”
To demonstrate the importance of mental health awareness and support, Bains asked four volunteers to play a game of Hot Potato in which different coloured balloons represented school, work, volunteering and extracurricular, family obligations, mental illness, and stigma. As Bains tossed more and more balloons into the circle, the players had to struggle to keep them from touching the ground.
“This is exactly how it feels,” Bains says. “People who are facing mental illness feel this way, and on top of that if they’re facing stigma and discrimination, it gets really overwhelming.
“We’re hoping to initiate conversations, start projects, create safe space, safe places for people to come to us … and we’re hoping that we can maybe just be one little support group that can hold onto one balloon, or push it when it’s about to hit the ground,” she adds.
MHAC will meet from 8:30 to 10 a.m. every second Tuesday in room B121, starting February 16. Bains hopes the upcoming events associated with the YUP campaign will draw more students to get involved with the club.
“We really need you. We really need help,” says Bains. “We need involvement in MHAC initiatives — involvement from students, staff, faculty, counsellors, everybody. We will be doing events … we just need people to be there.”