For this project we chose to discuss the topic of mental health, predominantly on campus and around our community. We were originally inspired by the story of Urbana resident Cate Lao and her drive to share her story of what life is like living with early onset Dementia of the Alzheimer’s variety. Cate told us how she gets through each day with memory limitations of dementia, as well as how it has affected her friends and family. She hopes that her words will be able to help educate people about dementia and bring comfort to those who already live with it, and we were excited to help her do so.
Cate’s powerful words prompted us to expand our research on mental health issues to our own campus, so we created a survey (link) to assess trends of students at UIUC. The overwhelming amount of responses produced somewhat unexpected results, which indicated that negative stigmas surround mental health issues and treatments still exist on campus.
We sought the opinions of various mental health professionals on and around campus to discuss the results of our findings as well as to further our understanding of what goes in to working as a counselor or psychiatrist. These enlightening interviews taught us that “the ability to be there for somebody who feels completely alone” is one of the most important and rewarding aspects of the profession, and were motivated to support the work that they do through our project and research.
After all of our interviews and research, we came to realize that the incredibly personal aspect of the mental health conversation was something we had not yet discussed. So we chose to create a photo essay focused on person reflection – what mental health issues mean to us in our own lives. The photographer pairs each personal photo with a personal reflection in an effort to depict the variation of the effects of mental health issues as well as its similarities.
To round out our project, we chose to create a ‘how-to’ video with a lighter vibe that encourages students to make their mental health a priority. This involves taking time out of the day to blow off steam, let the mind relax and re-center. A major cause or trigger for mental health issues is stress, so we brainstormed a list of fun and creative ways that are simple and effective for students to de-stress and relax. However, we do not wish to diminish the importance of seeking professional help as well, and also would like to encourage students to seek professional help as necessary.