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Students create virtual event to raise awareness about mental health, campus resources

| Judy Berthiaume

Photo caption: Declan Melchoir and several fellow Blugolds created a virtual concert event to raise awareness of mental illness among students on campus and resources available to support them. They created the event as part of a social change project in their University Honors course.

A group of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students has created a virtual event to raise awareness about mental health issues on campus and the resources available to support Blugolds who need them.

The student-created event, Virtual Mental Health Awareness Concert, will air on Twitch at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18.

Five students created the event as a project in their University Honors class, “Women of the Civil Rights Movement.” Students in the class were required to complete a social-change project focusing on an issue in society today, says Jodi Thesing-Ritter, the course instructor and the director of the university’s Center for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Training, Development and Education.

“Our social change project was a culmination of our passion to raise awareness and draw attention to mental health issues students at UWEC may experience,” says Declan Melchoir, a Green Bay native who is majoring in English with an emphasis in creative writing. “As we were thinking of how best to present this, we came up with the idea of a concert to incorporate people all around UWEC into our project.

“Everyone was welcome to perform, so we have many people performing a multitude of different things, from a speech to a jazz quartet.”

Samantha Will hopes the virtual concert will reduce the stigma around mental illness.

Samantha Will hopes the virtual concert will reduce the stigma around mental illness.

Hopefully, the concert will help to reduce the stigma around mental illness and educate students about healthy ways to manage their mental health, says Samantha Will, a political science and world politics major from Mosinee.

“We also wanted to give students a way to share their own talents or personal mental health stories if they were comfortable,” Will says. “I think we have a healthy mix of instrumental bands, solos and some singing. I am very excited to showcase my peers’ talents.”

Their goal, Melchoir says, is to highlight the musical talents of students, but in a way that also makes more Blugolds aware of the counseling and other mental health resources available to them on campus.

So, in addition to musical performances, the event includes presentations from leaders in UW-Eau Claire’s Counseling Services and its Suicide Prevention and Research Collaborative (SPARC), an initiative involving mental health outreach, programming, training, academics, research and policy development.

“Our idea for a livestreamed concert revolves around combining entertainment with a positive message that anyone can benefit from hearing,” says Noah Yerama, a political science and legal studies major from Hudson. “We want to do something that would reach further than just the students in our class while still practicing social distancing. We’re excited to have talented students share their musical gifts.”

The group has planned an impressive event, while also learning valuable skills about how to make positive change in the world around them, Thesing-Ritter says.

“They are using knowledge gained from studying the incredible women making social change during the civil rights movement and putting that learning into practice addressing a real-world issue facing them today,” Thesing-Ritter says. “These students are better prepared to make change today because they have studied our history.”

Blugolds (from left) Declan Melchoir, Noah Yerama, Alex Carlton and Elijah Kruse helped create an event that showcases students' talents and shares information about mental health resources on campus.

Blugolds (from left) Declan Melchoir, Noah Yerama, Alex Carlton and Elijah Kruse helped create an event that showcases students' talents and shares information about mental health resources on campus.

Thesing-Ritter says raising awareness about mental health is especially timely given current events.

“Considering the stress of the pandemic, social unrest, protests and the election, the topic of mental health is more important than ever,” Thesing-Ritter says. “Raising awareness about resources to support students’ mental health will make a difference. They’ve created a really cool event that will benefit many other students on our campus.”

While his involvement in planning the virtual event is part of a class project, helping students who struggle with their mental health to find the resources they need is important to him on a personal level, says Melchoir, who has struggled with his own mental health.

“I personally chose to join a group dedicated to raising awareness for mental health due to my own experiences with depression and anxiety,” Melchoir says. “This has led to me being more aware of it in others. I’ve become more understanding and empathetic to those who are experiencing it. I want to help others to be more aware.”

Melchoir says he already knew of the many resources on campus for students, but the class project has helped him better appreciate just how much UW-Eau Claire does to support students’ mental health.

“This topic is very personal to me and is something I am constantly struggling with,” Melchoir says. “I hope that this project will reach those who might need it most.”

Yerama also was drawn to the project because of struggles with his own mental health, and because he sees so many others on campus dealing with similar issues.

“Everyone knows someone who has struggled with mental health in some capacity,” Yerama says. “I believe these challenges can be eased through positive social support and reinforcement. I also have many friends who are passionate about music and performing who have struggled to cope with the lack of opportunity to share their talents during the pandemic. I hope this concert gives them an opportunity to reinforce the positive atmosphere on campus and build on preexisting knowledge of mental illness.”

The project already has helped him reframe how he thinks and talks about mental health, Yerama says.

“It has helped me realize how to talk about mental health in a positive way,” Yerama says. “I've learned to focus on coping mechanisms and the positive aspects of recovery rather than just naming symptoms.”

Will says mental health always has been a topic close to her heart because her mom is a social worker who often helps adults who are dealing with mental health struggles in their daily lives.

“She has always been transparent with me about how real and important mental health is and I'd like to share that message with UWEC,” Will says of her interest in the project.

Too many college students do not focus enough on their mental health, Will says.

“We put such a strong focus on academics, maintaining peer groups and jobs that our mental health never becomes a priority,” Will says. “I think a lot of students are struggling, and I hope this event encourages them to take a step back and care for themselves.

“It’s so important that college students put themselves first sometimes. I know how difficult that can be, so I hope this project encourages students to show themselves some love.”

Alex Carlton, a political science major from Bloomington, Minnesota, and Elijah Kruse, an undeclared major from Appleton, also were part of the student group that created the virtual event.

Several other groups in her class also created meaningful projects for the social change assignment, says Thesing-Ritter, noting that other topics included access to health care, homelessness, disability rights, access to education and rape culture.

“Every semester I am completely blown away by the incredible work of our students to make a positive impact on our community through their social change projects,” Thesing-Ritter says. “One of the cornerstones of our campus is engaging students in learning that allows them to put theory into practice. This project demonstrates the ability of our UW-Eau Claire students to learn a concept in the classroom and then practically apply it in a real-world setting.”