IU senior David Haggerty knows how it feels to struggle with a mental illness. During his freshman year of college, the biology major began to develop symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Haggerty also knows how scary it can feel to reach out for help. So when he finally sought treatment, he decided to make it his mission to help other students facing the same struggles.
“I’ve always been an activist, so when I sought treatment my doctor suggested I get involved with some type of organization or group so I could try to help other people avoid what I went through,” he said. “That was the spark that got me thinking, maybe I can actually do something about this.”
So Haggerty joined IU’s U Bring Change 2 Mind College Toolbox Project– a national research and advocacy program that aims at reducing the stigma of mental illness.
Two years later, now co-director of U Bring Change 2 Mind, Haggerty is combining his passion for mental health awareness with his love for lacrosse by recruiting his fellow teammates to “Stick it to Stigma.”
On April 9, in a match against the University of Illinois, IU’s men’s lacrosse team will wear the official color of mental health – lime green – and their uniforms will display #MindOurFuture in support of Bring Change 2 Mind’s new public service announcement, which the team is also taking part in.
The game will also be streamed live at 3 p.m. Eastern Time on Bring Change 2 Mind’s website.
The idea, said Haggerty, who is captain of IU’s men’s lacrosse team, is to not only bring awareness to mental illness, but to address a demographic – males and athletes – that can sometimes have difficulty speaking about the issue.
“We’ve been trying for some time to figure out a way to get males and athletes more involved in our efforts around mental health awareness,” said Haggerty. “Males are more likely to internalize stigma, so they are less likely to talk about it. I think with athletes, we always talk about physical fitness and mental toughness, but not about this, because it can be seen as being weak.”
When approached with the idea, Haggerty said, his teammates and coach were excited to be a part of the efforts.
“The support and excitement for this event has been great,” Haggerty said. “To have male athletes, 50 of them, talking about mental health, very openly and very publicly, is a big deal.”
The game is just one of the ways U Bring Change 2 Mind is trying to bring more students into the conversation about mental health.
Last week, the organization hosted “Kick Stigma in the Balls,” a kickball game that brought out more than 200 students.
“We hope these types of events can help normalize the conversation about mental health,” said IU junior Lauren Smith, who also serves as co-director of U Bring Change to Mind. “If we can find activities everyone is interested in and then integrate our message into the events, it helps ease the conversation.”
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in four college students has a diagnosable illness and 40 percent do not seek help.
At IU Bloomington, more than 4,000 students used IU Health Center’s Counseling and Psychological Services in the 2014-15 academic year. The most prevalent diagnosis was generalized anxiety disorder, followed by interpersonal problems, anxiety state, depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Since the launch of U Bring Change 2 Mind, Haggerty and Smith said they have seen the impact the program’s efforts are making. It is especially obvious when students approach Haggerty after hearing his own personal story.
“I’ve had people come up to me after a presentation in tears, and students will approach me out in the community and mention something I’ve posted on social media or a blog I’ve written,” Haggerty said. “So it’s becoming more visible. People are more willing to talk about it. When you see someone else talking about it, it makes you think, ‘If they are talking about it and sharing their stories, then I can do too.’”
More information about The College Toolbox Project is available online, including on-campus and community resources.