This school year, a student-led subcommittee on mental health called The Greater Than Campaign has caused a substantial buzz on campus. The campaign originated within the Student Government Association (SGA) as a subcommittee of six senators. Since its formation, many students have come together to work towards increasing mental health awareness at St. Olaf.
“I knew that we wanted to do a student initiative this year. The greater SGA team talked about having a campaign for mental health and we knew that this was a very, very important student issue that is something more than just [what] the students can take on,” Committee Leader Kelsey Henquinet ’16 said.
Committee members initiated the campaign with the belief that mental health is a significant issue. The name Greater Than, coined by committee member Julie Johnson ’19, captures the goals and ambitions of the campaign. The committee wants to show students that they are ultimately greater than their struggles and that it is okay not to be happy all of the time.
“On this campus we are so stressed out all the time, and the idea of the perfect Ole is so strong. That can push us in a dangerous direction as though anyone who doesn’t fit that mold is wrong or doesn’t fit in,” Henquinet said.
The group meets weekly to discuss changes that need to be made as well as how they can encourage people to have healthy conversation on a daily basis. One of the main issues they are examining is the stigma that is often associated with mental illness. They want every student to become comfortable discussing and addressing these issues. Through these discussions, they hope that struggling students can feel more confident seeking the help they need openly and without embarrassment.
“I think so much of the stigma exists because we don’t know how to talk about mental health. When you get to college, you’re so much more at risk of developing an issue or to know someone who is struggling. We don’t know as students and as young people how to handle it all the time,” Henquinet said.
To diminish the stigma and offer students the support they need, the committee is already utilizing as many different people and offices on campus as possible. The committee members want to provide a way for students to find and access mental health resources on campus.
“The great news is that we have a lot of resources,” Henquinet said. “There seems to be a disconnect between these resources and the student body in general, [so] we really want to connect students to those resources.”
As the committee moves forward, it will continue to address both students and staff in order to foster a campus environment that welcomes the discussion of such difficult topics. The subcommittee is actively working with administrators, resource offices, professors and students to address the issue. They want to encourage students to talk openly about the reality of mental illness so that nobody feels alone, and so that people on campus have a better understanding of how to handle issues with mental health.
At the same time, they want students to know that nobody is solely responsible for the health and safety of their friends, and often professional help is both necessary and accessible.
Already gaining momentum this spring, The Greater Than Campaign is ready to prove that as a campus we are #GreaterThan the stigma surrounding mental health.