As you walk around campus, you might see a green bandana tied around a student’s backpack strap. This isn’t just a new fashion statement, it’s a symbol of support and reach. In fact, every student who owns one of these AND-themed green bandanas has received thorough training that has enabled them to learn what it means to be an ally to those who are struggling with their mental health have fight These bandanas serve as an outward expression of a student’s preparation and willingness to have sensitive conversations about mental health with their peers.
The Bandana Project was founded in 2016 by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It is described by its founders as a “simple but innovative suicide prevention and mental health awareness movement” in which bandana wearers make “a promise to support the mental health of the people in their lives and to reject the stigma associated with mental illness.” . Here on the UND campus, UND Student Government President Faith Wahl and Vice President Morgan Mastrud encouraged the launch of the Bandana Project at UND. The Green Bandana Project here on campus was also made possible by financial donations from the John Hauser Foundation.
So what does it mean to be a bandana wearer? Here at the University of North Dakota, the training was scheduled for August 26thth until the 28thth in one of the Memorial Union ballrooms. Here, students spent a four-hour training session preparing to address and discuss psychological conflict.
The first hour consisted of videos designed to help the students understand the topics and content of the training day. An example of the videos that were shared is a short documentary that recounts the experiences of college students struggling with depression and anxiety. Later, the students received a presentation on how to approach someone struggling with mental health and what threatens the health of university students.
Additionally, students were asked to discuss with their fellow students an experience in which they were confronted with the reality that someone close to them was suffering from mental health issues – an attempt to allow students to be vulnerable and fill the role recognize they play in supporting others. Much of the training time allocated was devoted to enabling students to have conversations with someone struggling with mental health issues. Students were taught the proper vocabulary to discuss things like mental illness and suicide, and to recognize signs of suffering around them. “Being able to practice these tough discussions was really helpful for me,” says one student who took part in UND’s Green Bandana training. “It would have been so helpful to have that education in middle school or high school. I wish I had had those tools in previous situations.” It can be frightening to think about students growing up unable to adequately support their peers, which explains why so many Green Bandana trainees have found relief and comfort in being equipped with the tools to have healthy conversations and discussions about mental health.
The training was led by a panel of consultants and licensed professionals from UND; Cassie Gerhardt, Carolyn Broden and Kaylee Trottier. Carolyn Broden (Assistant Director of Substance Use and Outreach at the UND Counseling Center) says about the Bandana Project; “It’s a mental health awareness and suicide prevention campaign that uses bandanas as a symbol to support peers to get help. Upon completion, students will have tools and resources to support those who may be struggling.” She says of the training, “It’s really good that a lot of people know something rather than just having a few people who know a lot .”
For the Licensed Vendors and Trainers who worked on UND’s Green Bandana project, it was an amazing experience to see the project. “I was so impressed with how committed the students are to becoming peers and becoming advocates who want to help people who are struggling with mental health and suicide,” says Broden. “We had no idea if it was only going to be 10 people who showed up and it was over 300. That really blew me away.”
Another student here on campus was also positive about the training. “It was very educational and eye-opening,” she said. “It hit a lot of very important scenarios that could happen.” She explained how being able to practice mental health discussions allowed her to feel more secure about having such vulnerable conversations. “I am so glad AND offered this training. As someone going into counseling this was a great experience that allowed me to tiptoe into this field.”
Of course, students here on campus also have this opportunity to thank UND Student Government President Faith Wahl and Vice President Morgan Mastrud. A major point of interest in her campaign for AND Student Government was her commitment to providing support and resources for students on campus. They proposed the idea of introducing the Bandana Project on campus to educate both students and staff on the importance of mental health awareness and education. It’s hard to ignore how fortunate it is to have AND representatives who understand student needs, and both Wahl and Mastrud have made efforts to ensure that those needs are recognized and addressed, as their efforts show Bringing Bandana Project to campus.
It’s also important to note that Green Bandana Training isn’t the only step the duo has taken to offer education and resources to AND students. Wahl and Mastrud have also helped raise funds for UND’s pantry to provide community members with essential resources. Since the beginning of their campaign, they’ve been promoting the motto “MORE,” an acronym for Mental Health, Opportunities and Resources, and Empower. To find out more, you can visit her Instagram account at wahlmastrud or her Facebook page at Wahl & Mastrud for UND.
Although Green Bandana Training is not currently available online, it is expected that UND will offer additional training in the future. According to Broden, the campus is working to “develop a system to streamline requests” and to keep up to date and look out for announcements about future training. Bandana Project training is also held at other nearby schools; NDSU has held Green Bandana Project training, and campuses across the country report that they have also held Bandana Project training. If you missed the opportunity to train this fall, there are other events you can attend. AND often hosts walks to raise awareness about suicide prevention, so keep an eye out for future opportunities in the Grand Forks area. In April 2021, the third annual Out of the Darkness Campus Walk was held to raise awareness about suicide. If you are interested in taking a trip outside of the Grand Forks area to attend this event, there will be another Out of the Darkness Walk on September 18thth in Fargo, North Dakota at the Scheels Arena. This is a free, community-wide event where everyone is welcome. More information is available online and you can learn more about the organization at ASFP.org.
However, mental health resources don’t stop with Green Bandana Training here at AND. Free counseling is available at the University Counseling Center for students in both distance and face-to-face session formats. These services are offered to students at no additional cost – you as a student do not have to worry about co-payments, insurance or other fees. For more information about what mental health services are available on campus, you can contact the University Counseling Center at McCannel Hall Room 200 or call 701-777-2127.
It’s also important to reiterate that Green Bandana Training was made possible through the efforts of the John Hauser Foundation. To learn more about the foundation and how you can support it, visit https://undalumni.org/JohnsFund.
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts or any form of mental health crisis, please contact a crisis hotline. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 988. If you are looking for a lifeline for LGBTQ+ people, the Trevor Project’s hotline is always available online to message you, or you can call their number to speak to an available provider 866-488-7386. The Rape and Abuse Crisis Center can be contacted at 800-656-4673.
Ava Stockstad is a student reporter from Dakota. She can be reached at [email protected]