mtvU Campaigns For Mental Health Awareness On College Campuses
Mental health issues are common among people of all ages. However, currently, a social stigma causes a reluctance to seek help. The Jed Foundation is a nonprofit organization aimed to prevent suicide by promoting mental health among college students. Together, The Jed Foundation and mtvU have formed the “Half of Us” campaign to raise awareness about mental health in an attempt to diminish the social stigma.
mtvU completed studies in 2006 of 16 focus groups and 503 online interviews to determine college students’ perceptions and coping methods concerning mental health issues. The leading coping method, reported by 79 percent of the students involved in the study, was listening to music, which led to the “Half of Us” campaign’s formation centered around musicians and music outlet mtvU as a way to reach college students.
Phil and Donna Satow, who founded The Jed Foundation in 2000 after the suicide of their 20-year-old son Jed, stated, “A college student’s suicide sends shock waves through American families every day, and if we don’t take aim at the root causes, this problem could continue to worsen.”
The “Half of Us” campaign raises awareness of mental health issues on air, on campus, and online. On mtvU, public service announcements featuring students sharing personal stories about battling emotional disorders will air multiple times on a daily basis. mtvU plans to implement mental health messages into its programming as well. The goals are to convey that mental illness is biological, to encourage students to observe their own behavior and that of friends’, and to speak out if warning signs occur. HalfofUs.com provides information about resources available to campus students, specific to individual colleges. The website hosts an anonymous mental health screening tool, called “Check Yourself,” developed by Duke University Medical Center. The test allows users to assess their emotional states, provides information about conditions identified by question answers, and provides information about campus resources.
The website also gives information how to start an Active Minds chapter on campuses, which is a student-run mental health awareness program. Courtney Knowles, Director of Communications at The Jed Foundation, stated that this is an incredible partnership between mtvU and The Jed Foundation because “mtvU understands how to connect with students and raise awareness of important social issues.” The study results, identifying listening to music as the number one way college students deal with stress, exemplifies the importance of music in the lives of young adults. HalfofUs.com is currently airing video interviews with musicians Mary J. Blige; Max Bemis, front man of the band Say Anything; and Pete Wentz, bassist of the band Fall Out Boy, in which the artists talk about their personal battles with mental health issues. Knowles stated, “The artists and students that are sharing their stories through the Half of Us campaign are making a huge impact on the preconceived notions around mental health. Everyone can follow in their footsteps by learning more, speaking up and looking out for the people around them.”
As a musician battling depression, Wentz has the power to reach fans that relate to him because of similar issues. He also knows firsthand the power music has in helping to cope with emotional issues. For Wentz, writing music is a cathartic process, in which he is trying to figure himself out. To him, music, in general, seems to have an enchanting, magical quality about it, being able to change moods. He stated, “If it weren’t for [the band], I don’t know where I’d be; bouncing into padded walls probably,” Wentz stated. “I escaped the small town I was from. I adventured. I saw the world. I get to escape for an hour every night on stage, hear that [I] mean something to someone. It gives me something to believe in. It makes me want to be a better person. It makes me want to stick around.”
After seeking counseling for his own emotional issues, Wentz realized the importance in seeking help. He states in his video interview on HalfofUs.com, “It’s not really just about keeping your head above water; it’s about feeling alright and feeling safe in your own skin.” Wentz became involved with the “Half of Us” campaign because mental health is an issue that hits close to home. “I feel like I am not much of an expert on anything from music history to questions about love … I felt like I could offer my side of a conversation, maybe not answer people but at least let them know someone else felt similarly.”
The overwhelming difficulty and isolation in dealing with mental health issues is a dangerous battle. Friedman stated, “We hope this [campaign] will begin to address the massive denial surrounding the issue of mental health. When someone breaks their leg, everybody is there to get them help, but when you feel depressed, you hide it. There needs to be radical rethinking of this issue, and it starts with letting people know that this affects half of all college students, which means ultimately everyone is affected.”
Friedman hopes, with the Web site’s information about different emotional disorders, listing of mental health resources available on individual campuses, and personal testimonies from musicians and students; with mtvU’s on air PSAs about mental health; and with the opportunity for students to start Active Minds chapters on campuses to provide education about mental health issues, social change will take place, helping to pave the way for those with emotional issues to feel comfortable to reaching out for help. “The great thing about college students, which hasn’t changed over time,” Friedman stated, “is that they are truly the engine of social change. And while that isn’t the case with all of them, the whole atmosphere of college lends itself towards questioning and challenging and that is always a great incubator for activism. It is inspiring. This generation of college students has been on the front line of raising the international awareness of the genocide in Darfur, and I’m confident that they will lead the assault on the stigma around mental health.”