Student volunteers drive campaign against mental illness stigma

Guest post by Steve Hinnefeld, who normally writes at the Policy Briefings blog:

IU students with Glenn Close

IU students involved with U Bring Change 2 Mind have their picture taken with Glenn Close. From left are junior David Haggerty, sophomore Lauren Smith, Close, junior Elliott Hudson and freshman Hannah Powers.

The U Bring Change 2 Mind initiative to combat the stigma associated with mental illness is backed by serious star power in the person of award-winning actress Glenn Close.

But the project has something else that may be even more essential to its success: student power.

Dozens of IU Bloomington students signed on to help when U Bring Change 2 Mind announced its formation last fall and started to roll out its Campus Toolbox Project, aimed at developing activities that will change the way people think about mental illness.

Dozens more made presentations this week for a competition to help create anti-stigma public awareness campaigns — presentations that were judged by Close and Pamela Harrington, executive director of Bring Change 2 Mind, the foundation Close started in 2010.

IU students will also be at the center of pilot-testing and evaluating the campaigns and activities over the next four years, starting with new students who arrive for orientation this summer.

“This generation, they’re very activist,” said IU sociologist Bernice Pescosolido, an expert on the effects of mental health stigma and chair of the Bring Change 2 Mind advisory board. “They want to volunteer. They want to change the world. And as they teach us about their generation, why not teach them about basic science and applications right from the start?”

Lauren Smith, a sophomore from Fishers, Ind., is co-leader of the U Bring Change 2 Mind student advisory board. She got involved by responding to an email blast from Susan Barnett, the College Toolbox Project manager and a graduate student in the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington.

“This age group is very impressionable,” Smith said about her fellow students. “Everybody here on campus is kind of like a sponge, just taking everything in.”

Smith said she initially thought of U Bring Change 2 Mind as a busy organization with a clear mission. But with this week’s activities — helping Close and Harrington judge the public awareness campaign competition and watching them socialize with students in a reception at the IMU bowling alley — she became more aware of being part of something that could reach far beyond the IU campus.

“This is still so new,” Smith said. “It’s like a little baby and we don’t know where it will go yet. But it will be very exciting to see where this goes over the next few years.”

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