Mental Health Awareness Month: Bandana Project at NAMI-UW Builds Awareness and Fights Stigma
NAMI-UW is the UW-Madison campus chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The chapter holds biweekly meetings during the academic year, featuring speakers who present on different topics related to mental health.
Caitlin Behm, Co-President at NAMI-UW, got involved during her sophomore year after a friend invited her to attend a meeting. Says Caitlin, “I absolutely fell in love at the first meeting, and felt really connected to their message about advocating, educating and supporting mental illness. I come from a small town where mental health was not talked about especially in school, and I didn’t recognize my symptoms of anxiety and depression until I learned more from NAMI-UW.”
Caitlin took time from her busy final exam and commencement preparation schedule for an e-mail interview about NAMI-UW.
What is the primary focus of NAMI-UW?
“Our primary focus at NAMI-UW is to educate, advocate, and support mental illness. We do this by educating students through our general meetings, we advocate by attending lectures, other student groups, and dorm meetings to spread the word about The Bandana Project, and we offer support through our peer support group called WiChat that meets every week.”
Can you tell us more about The Bandana Project—how it started, and how it’s grown? How could another campus start a Bandana project?
“My friend, Conlin Bass, heard about students tying white bandanas to their backpacks as a sign of support for a professor at UW-Riverfalls who lost his son by suicide. Conlin thought that it would be an amazing idea to start something like that at UW-Madison, but with lime green bandanas because that’s the signature color of mental health. The Bandana Project began in January 2016, and since then we have distributed 4,400 bandanas across campus. We couldn’t have accomplished this without Conlin’s dedication. Together the two of us tackled sororities, frats, student orgs, lectures, dorm floor meetings, just to spread the word about The Bandana Project, but three years later we have people emailing us every week wanting us to come and speak to their club. It’s amazing to watch this movement grow, at the beginning no one knew what the bandanas stand for, but now you can walk down a street and see 5-10 bandanas at least on your walk to class."
Read/listen to related story about Conlin Bass: UW-Madison 'Bandana Project' Shows Students They Aren't Alone In Mental Health Struggles
"Other campuses have started their own Bandana Projects, and all you have to do is email us at [email protected]. Our outreach coordinator, Kenia Link, will send information and the starting kit we have created for The Bandana Project!"
Can you share a story of how The Bandana Project has made a difference in someone’s life?
“The Bandana Project has made a huge difference in my life and in my fellow Exec Boards lives as well. Seeing all the bandanas on peoples’ backpacks on my walk to class brings me joy. Having a bandana on your backpack signifies you carry the resource cards NAMI-UW provides. This bandana shows people are willing to be open about supporting mental health and preventing suicides. Wearing the bandana on your backpack shows support on our campus of students who are stigmatizing mental health. So many of my peers won’t admit they need help because of the stigma. Having the bandanas around campus silently gives support to students who struggle, and just knowing that so many people on campus know about the resources is a huge accomplishment. “
What are some future plans for NAMI-UW and The Bandana Project?
"Right now, NAMI-UW has been working with UW RecSports to create a better place for students to improve all areas of their mental health. RecSports will be changing their name to RecWellness, and we will be partnering with the next fall for this event to provide students quick peer support while walking back from class. The Bandana Project aims to reach out to the incoming freshman. Freshman year can be terrifying and challenging in terms of mental health, so it’s extremely important we reach out to them as soon as possible. I would also love to see more high schools join the Bandana Project as well, especially in rural Wisconsin."
What are three things that are important for everyone to know about college students and mental health?
- "Mental illness does not define you. It does not prevent students from achieving their dreams. It makes them a stronger person to reach out for help and overcome obstacles.
- Almost all college students will be affected by their mental health. College is extremely stressful, so it’s imperative to find healthy self-care options early on.
- Finding support on campus is necessary to maintaining good mental health."
What’s next for you?
"I’m graduating this Saturday (May 11) with a Biology major! I will be working as an EMT in my hometown and volunteering at a local therapy place. Besides working and volunteering, I will be studying for the MCAT and applying to medical schools!"
The Great Lakes Mental Health Technology Transfer Center congratulates Ms. Behm and all the students across the Great Lakes Region and beyond who are celebrating commencement, Spring 2019!