Photo by Megumi Gomyo.
Mental health is a rising concern among college students. According to the American College Health Association, suicide rates of those aged 15-24 have tripled since the 1950s. As of March 2018, suicide ranked second to motor vehicle accidents as the most common cause of death among college students and 1 in 5 adults in the United States suffered from a mental illness in a given year.
In light of this, UMBC Residential Life’s apartment staff selected mental health as the topic for their annual social change project. Shannon Clancy, an RA with the Apartments and representative for the program, explained that “the staff members of Residential Life selected a topic in which they believed they could bring an action based awareness to.” This semester, the apartment staff decided to focus on raising awareness for mental health, addressing its negative stigma and identifying available resources in order to maintain self-care.
The project entailed four active and two passive programs spanning over the four weeks in April. Each program was organized by four to five Resident Assistants or Desk Staff members and was designed to address a different component regarding mental each week.
Week one introduced the topic and established background, week two developed skill-building techniques, week three addressed self-care and how to receive help, and week four detailed a plan of action. Clancy stressed the dedication of all residential staff members involved in organizing the program to ensure that the overall goal of creating an “open area to talk about why mental health is important” was successfully met.
Staff members organized four events held at the Apartment Community Center in which students were encouraged to attend and participate in a mental health discussion. On April 27 from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., they will be supporting the National Alliance on Mental Illnesses program located on Erikson Field.
The action part of the project was organized by Clancy and fellow staff members to engage residents in friendly competition while providing a safe space to discuss mental illness. A jar for each of the apartment communities — West Hill, Terrace, and Hillside — was placed at the Community Center to collect donations. The competition named “Penny Wars” was designed based on a positive point system for any denomination greater than a penny – one dollar allotted 100 points and so on. However, for each penny donated, the total point value for that community decreased.
UMBC will also be participating in an Out of Darkness campus walk on Saturday, April 28. The walk occurs nationwide and is sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a group that “raises awareness, funds scientific research and provides resources and aid to those affected by suicide,” as defined by the AFSP headquarters. The group has chapters across the country participating in the Out of Darkness walk.
The walk was designed to promote awareness for mental health and raise money for each subsequent state chapter of the program through donation. Interested students have the opportunity to raise money individually or as a team by registering on goo.gl/kQ38tr. Individuals may acquire donations without participating in the actual walk itself.
Currently, UMBC Apartments residential staff and the Psychology Honor Society have organized teams to participate in the walk. However, participation is open to all.
UMBC has multiple groups on campus that promote awareness of mental health, including, but not limited to, Active Minds, UMBC National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Wellness Initiative. Resources such as University Health Services and the Counseling Center are available for guidance to all UMBC students.
Individuals can register for the walk and begin raising money by going to https://afsp.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.event&eventID=5147.