This September, the University of Dallas held its first Mental Health Awareness Month, with the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) sponsoring events throughout the last three weeks of the month.
The project is unique in that two seniors were wholly responsible for coordinating the events.
“The program is completely student run,” Assistant Director of OSA Seth Oldham said. “Jennifer Brady and Mary Jane Plote came to me last May and said they were passionate about this topic and thought we should have some campus programming concerning mental health.”
Oldham gave Brady and Plote his support but told them the responsibility of running it was up to them.
“I told them they had my support, and the support of our office but that they had to run and plan everything, and they have. In my opinion, they have done a fantastic job,” Oldham said in an email.
So why put so much effort into an event?
“At UD, sometimes you get caught up in the fact that everybody is so smart, everybody is so put together, but in fact they also may be struggling,” Brady said.
Brady is a pre-nursing theology major, and Plote is a history major.
As Resident Assistants (RAs) last year, they both saw the profound effect that mental health, or lack thereof, can have on students.
“We were both RA’s last year, and that’s what brought us to this idea, seeing the impact it can have on residents,” Plote said. “And we both have personal connections to mental health struggles, either our own or people around us.”
“[Mental health] is an issue that’s getting less stigmatized,” Brady said. “But it’s such a tough thing to bring up, because it is so personal and it’s admitting sometimes that there is something wrong, and that’s really hard to do.”
This week, strings tied from column to column with hundreds of notecards pinned to them appeared in Haggar foyer.
The notecards held testimonies from students struggling to some degree with mental or emotional problems.
Oldham gave Brady and Plote the idea for the notecard project, inspired by similar testimony projects that have been implemented at other universities.
Brady and Plote added to this idea by also hanging notecards with positive messages in order to offer encouragement to those who are struggling.
Slot boxes were placed in Haggar, in the OSA office and in Jerome Hall outside Oldham’s apartment. Anyone could write on a notecard.
The cards will be left up through the week of Sept. 25.
“The notecards [were] taken up this week, and last week we had a lecture by Maribel Laguna who is a counselor here in the area, and she spoke about mental health at college campuses … and how to cope with mental health [as someone] with a religious background,” Plote said.
Laguna is an alumna of UD and was able to appeal to the specific difficulties of being a student at this university.
For the third week of the project, on Tuesday, Sept. 27 at 6 p.m. in the Art History Auditorium, there will be a showing of the movie “Goodwill Hunting” and a discussion panel following it, including professors, counselors and two students.
The panel will discuss the movie and its commentary on mental health, as well as bringing in additional perspective on the topic from the panel.
Although they are graduating this year, Brady and Plote are happy at what their project has accomplished this year, and hope that other students will continue this project in future years.
“It has been so amazing to see that UD is going to have a dialogue about this,” Plote said. “There has been tremendous positive feedback … there has been some negative feedback … but if one person could feel that they are not alone because of this, that is all that we wanted.”