“Mental wellness, resilience, happiness and stress relief. Those are kind of our big four,” said Rachel Hanson, Student Activities coordinator at Maryville College.
Hanson is referring to the main goals of MC Uplift, a campaign taking place during the week of March 28 to April 1. The program is a partnership between the MC Student Development staff and the Blount County Community Health Initiative.
Five years ago, staff members from Blount Memorial Hospital, a partner in the Community Health Initiative, asked MC staff to help them implement a national program called “Feeling Blue” on the MC campus. “Feeling Blue” was designed to bring attention to depression and suicide among college students.
MC initially tried hosting the campaign as a month-long program, but staff later realized that a consolidated week of events better caught the attention of professors and students. Trial-and-error over time has led to the coordinated, focused program people will see at the end of the month.
Last year, the campaign underwent a transformation. While talking with students and staff, Hanson noticed that not everyone was pleased with the name and logo used. “Feeling Blue” had a negative connotation, which was exactly what the program was intended to avoid. The name changed to MC Uplift, and the focus broadened from depression and suicide to overall mental wellness.
Leading the College’s side of planning and preparation is Vandy Kemp, MC vice president and dean of students. She works closely with all Student Development staff and heavily utilizes support from the Counseling Center and Residence Life staff while organizing this program.
“Depression and suicide is a prevalent problem with young adults,” Kemp said. “So what we hope is that this shines a light on the issue and encourages friends of students who are struggling with it to encourage their friends to get help or to recognize the danger signals in themselves.”
Kemp’s planning counterpart from the Community Health Initiative is Anna Shugart, Blount Memorial’s Emotional Health and Recovery Center director. Shugart won the Initiative’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013 for her professional leadership, so it is clear that mental health awareness is an important issue to her.
Because so many different people are working on this project, there are quite a few diverse events taking place during MC Uplift week. On Monday, March 28, the hospital staff involved will be distributing mental health information and stickers bearing the MC Uplift logo in Pearsons.
Wednesday, March 30, SPB will host a showing of the Academy Award winning film, Inside Out, at 8 p.m. in the Lambert Theatre. Hanson is thrilled that the film inspires conversation about resilience and happiness, while also providing entertainment for students.
SPB is also hosting a Glow Party on Friday, April 1 at 9 p.m. in the Alumni Gym, which will involve a deejay, glow sticks and an auction of movie posters. The proceeds from the poster auction will be donated to a mental illness charity. The goal of this event is simply to provide a time and place for students to get happy together.
Hospital staff will be involved in some very important awareness activities during the week. Among them will be QPR training, which is a worldwide suicide prevention approach. All MC Residence Life staff members are already trained in it, but the week’s sessions will focus on training coaches, who are often the first to notice warning signs exhibited by their athletes.
Staff members from both the hospital and the MC Counseling Center are working with professors to organize in-class stressbusters. These will be short activities designed to engage students and relieve tension in the classroom setting.
“A lot of people associate stress with college, and we see it presented in anxiety and depression and mental illness,” Hanson said. “People don’t want to label it that, and we want to kind of remove that stigma and let students talk about it before it gets to become a bigger problem.”
Other events, such as an Easter egg hunt, sidewalk chalk event and visit from animals, are in the works as well. Kemp is also working with Metz Dining Services to create a menu of “happy foods” for the week. There will be several events geared toward fitness, since it plays such a crucial role in mental wellness, and there may be Mountain Challenge activities.
Students are encouraged to like the MC Uplift Facebook page in order to keep up with the changing event schedule. They should also look for announcements in the MC Today and flyers posted around campus.