The COVID-19 pandemic brought to light other silent pandemics in our society. From economic inequities to mental health, the period of confinement shed light on a multitude of problems that gnawed at our communities for years.
One of them is undoubtedly mental health.
In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by a whopping 25%, according to a scientific report released earlier this March by the World Health Organization.
“The information we have now about the impact of COVID-19 on the world’s mental health is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “This is a wake-up call to all countries to pay more attention to mental health and do a better job of supporting their populations’ mental health.”
While many organizations have initiated strategies and initiatives during this challenging period, some have had ideas in place for some time.
For example, in January 2016, the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus saw the birth of a simple but innovative suicide prevention and mental health awareness movement. It’s the Bandana Project, where members tie a lime green bandana to their backpack, signifying that they are in possession of region-specific and national resources. They are committed to supporting the mental health of those around them and rejecting the stigma associated with mental illness.
As the initiative’s platform explains, the Bandana Project is an initiative designed to raise awareness of resources for the mentally ill. The green bandanas are placed in students’ backpacks, indicating that they are safe people to approach for mental health issues and know where the resources are. The program gives tangible resources to an individual and provides invaluable visible support.
“If you see a green bandana on the backpack of a stranger, it is a sign of quiet solidarity. You are not alone,” the movement says.
The Bandana Project exists in many forms across the country. It was introduced at UW- La Crosse Wellness and Health Advocacy by a student (Emily Wood) who transferred from UW-River Falls to UW-La Crosse for the fall 2015 semester. The project was inspired by Emily and Dr. Betsy Gerbec, who lost her son to suicide and created Dan’s Bandana Project at UW-RF.
Once the pandemic set foot on U.S. soil, other universities followed suit.
In February 2020, Oakland University launched a similar project.
“Because of the large number of people who were affected by this, it was really necessary for us to get it out there, have the extra support, and let people know that if you see this bandana, [that] person will be there to help you in some sort of way,” Megan Ritz, senior, told the Oakland Post. Ritz has been involved with the campaign since its conception.
The Bandana Project has a proven history of sweeping through communities and changing the mental health climate by activating those who are already passionate about eliminating this stigma. For over six years, it has given participants from over 50 chapters the tangible resources they desire and recognize as much needed. It works as a showcase against stigma on a large scale, helps people become more supportive of their own and others’ mental health, and fosters conversations that change lives, one green handkerchief at a time.