Six undergraduate students began a quarter-long campaign this week titled “Destigmatize Counseling” to combat negative stigmas surrounding mental illness by posting positive messages on social media outlets to encourage people to seek professional help if needed.
The idea for the campaign was first proposed in the students’ Education 173 leadership development class. As part of their campaign, the students are collecting pictures, inspirational quotes and personal stories from UCSB students and sharing them on their website and Facebook page.
Campaign organizer and fourth-year theater major Fangyuan Liu said the group plans to combine a strong social media presence with an on-campus campaign to spread the message.
“We are going to share their [the students’] stories and quotes on Facebook, make their quotes into flyers and distribute them to different departments and boards on campus,” Liu said in an email. “Also, we are going make a big presentation board and we are going to present it on the lawn by Pardall tunnel.”
Campaign organizer and fourth-year psychology major Yasmin Irfani said sharing students’ stories on social media allows more people to see them.
“Our main idea is the website and Facebook page because that’s what most students look at,” Irfani said. “They can see people’s stories and think, ‘Oh, I’ve seen this person on campus I didn’t know they felt this way.’”
According to Irfani, the campaign is meant to send positive messages to students who are discouraged from visiting Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and other resources aimed to help those with mental illness.
“This is what we wanted to do because we believe that every student should feel comfortable walking into CAPS knowing that it’s OK to feel however they’re feeling. We wanted to help them feel validated,” Irfani said.
Liu said stigmas surrounding mental illness are problematic because they prevent students from seeking counseling and she hopes the campaign changes people’s attitudes to “normalizing instead of stigmatizing.”
“Sometimes people may not want to share their troubles with loved ones, perhaps in the fear of being a burden on them,” Liu said in an email. “Talking to a professional psychologist can give a person a different perspective and counselors are able to offer people non-judgmental and professional help to guide them through their difficult times.”
Third-year biopsychology major and campaign participant Suman Sidhu said she is in support of the project because it will allow students to feel more comfortable reaching out for help.
“People refuse to view mental health as something that needs to be prioritized, especially on college campuses where so many students struggle with such things,” Sidhu said in an email. “I love this project because it approves that none of us is alone when it comes to having struggles, it is very easy to look around and think you are the only one going through difficult times.”
Sidhu said she sought out counseling for her anxiety but wished she could have been more informed about mental health resources sooner.
“Personally I struggle with anxiety and have found CAPS to be extremely helpful,” Sidhu said in an email. “I was one of those people that felt skeptical about counseling and therapy, but I wish I had been educated about it way earlier in life. Everyone should feel comfortable walking into that pink building and asking for help.”
Campaign organizer and second-year philosophy major Brianna Taylor said she is pleased with the number of online submissions since she expected a low turnout due to the strong negative stigma surrounding mental illness.
“I guess I thought the stigma around this topic was so high that I anticipated a lower turn-out, but it’s great to see the reality of the situation,” Taylor said in an email “I hope we are making a difference by putting a local, friendly face next to optimism and words about normalizing mental health.”
Campaign organizer and fourth-year psychology major Juan Salinas said due to the unexpected success of the project, the campaign may continue beyond this quarter.
“As far as the course assignment goes, once the quarter is over it’s over and we don’t have to do anything with it,” said Salinas, “But we think it actually has potential to continue on, so we’re going to build it up as much as we can until then, and offer it up to anyone willing to continue it.”