Green Bandana Project

Ava Stockstad, Reporter

When walking around campus, you may catch sight of a green bandana tied around a student’s backpack strap. This is not simply a new fashion statement, but instead a symbol of support and outreach. In fact, every student who is in possession of one of these UND-themed green bandanas has partaken in thorough training that has allowed them to learn what it means to be an ally to those struggling with their mental health. These bandanas serve as an outward expression of a student’s preparation and willingness to have vulnerable conversations surrounding mental health with their peers. 

 

The Bandana Project was formed in 2016 by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It is described by its founders as a “simple yet innovative suicide prevention and mental health awareness movement,” where bandana-wearers “pledge to support the mental health of those in their life, and reject stigma associated with mental illness.” Here on UND’s campus, UND Student Government President Faith Wahl and Vice President Morgan Mastrud encouraged the introduction of the Bandana Project to UND. The Green Bandana Project here on campus was also made possible through financial donations from the John Hauser Foundation. 

 

So, what does being a bandana-wearer entail? Here at the University of North Dakota, training was scheduled for August 26th through the 28th in one of the Memorial Union’s ballrooms. Here, students would spend four hours training to prepare for facing and discussing mental health conflicts. 

 

The first hour consisted of videos to help students understand the topics and content of the day’s training. An example of these videos that was shared is a short documentary relaying the experiences of college students who faced struggles with depression and anxiety. Later, students were given a presentation on how to address someone who is struggling with mental health, and what puts university students’ health at risk.  

 

Additionally, students were prompted to discuss with their peers about an experience where they were confronted with the reality that someone close to them was suffering with mental health issues – an effort to allow students to be vulnerable and recognize the part they play in supporting others. Much of the allotted training time was spent allowing students to practice having discussions with someone who is struggling with mental health issues. Students were trained on the proper vocabulary to discuss things like mental illness and suicide, and how to recognize signs of suffering in those around them. “Being able to practice these tough discussions was really helpful for me,” shares a student who participated in UND’s Green Bandana Training. “It would’ve been so helpful to have this training in middle or high school. I wish I would’ve had these tools in past situations.” It can be fearful to think about students growing up unable to properly support their peers, which explains why so many Green Bandana trainees felt relief and comfort in being equipped with the tools to carry on healthy conversations and discussions around mental health. 

 

Teaching the training was a panel of UND’s counselors and licensed professionals; Cassie Gerhardt, Carolyn Broden, and Kaylee Trottier. Carolyn Broden (Assistant Director of Substance Use and Outreach at the UND Counseling Center) says of the Bandana Project; “It is a mental health awareness and suicide prevention campaign that uses bandanas as a symbol to support peers in getting help. At the completion, students will have tools and resources to support those who might be struggling.” She says of the training, “To have a lot of people know some is really good, instead of just having a couple people know a lot.” 

 

For the licensed providers and trainers working on UND’s Green Bandana Project, seeing the project play out was a powerful experience. “I was so impressed with how invested the students are in becoming peers and becoming advocates wanting to help people that are struggling with mental health and suicide,” Broden says. “We had no idea if it was just going to be 10 people who showed up, and it was over 300. I was really blown away by that.” 

 

Another student here on campus also shared positive thoughts on the training. “It was very educational and eye-opening for me,” she said. “It hit a lot of very important scenarios that could happen.” She explained how being able to practice discussions surrounding mental health allowed her to feel more confident in having such vulnerable conversations. “I’m so glad UND offered this training. As someone going into mental health counseling, this was a great experience that allowed me to tiptoe into that field.”  

 

Of course, students here on campus can also owe this opportunity to UND’s Student Government President Faith Wahl and Vice President Morgan Mastrud. A large point of interest in their campaign for UND Student Government was their commitment to offering support and resources for students on campus. They proposed the idea of introducing the Bandana Project to the campus in order to educate both students and staff on the importance of mental health awareness and education. It’s difficult to ignore how fortunate it is to have UND representatives who understand student needs, and both Wahl and Mastrud put in the effort to make sure these needs are recognized and addressed, as shown through their effort to get the Bandana Project on campus. 

 

It’s also important to note that Green Bandana Training isn’t the only step the duo has taken toward offering education and resources to UND students. Wahl and Mastrud have also helped raise funding for UND’s food pantry to provide community members with essential resources. From the start of their campaign, they’ve spread the motto of “MORE”, an acronym for Mental Health, Opportunities and Resources, and Empower. To learn more, you can visit their Instagram account at wahlmastrud, or their Facebook page at “Wahl & Mastrud for UND”. 

 

While Green Bandana Training is not currently available online, it can be expected that UND will have additional training sessions in the future. Broden says the campus is working to “develop a system to streamline requests”, and to stay tuned, keeping an eye out for any announcements on future training. Bandana Project training is also being held at other schools nearby; NDSU has held Green Bandana Project training, and campuses across the country also report holding Bandana Project training sessions as well. If you’ve missed the opportunity for training this fall, there are other events that you can be involved in. UND often holds walks to help raise awareness for suicide prevention, so be on the lookout for future opportunities in the Grand Forks area. In April of 2021, the third annual Out of the Darkness campus walk was held to raise awareness for suicide. If you are interested in taking a trip outside of the Grand Forks area to participate in this event, another Out of the Darkness walk will be held on September 18th in Fargo, North Dakota at the Scheels Arena. This is a free, community-wide event where everyone is welcome. More information can be found online, and you can discover more about the organization at ASFP.org 

 

However, mental health resources don’t stop with Green Bandana Training here at UND. Free counseling is available at the University Counseling Center for students in both a remote and in-person session format. These services are given to students with no additional costs – you as a student won’t have to worry about co-pays, insurance, or any sort of fees. To seek out more information on what services are available on campus regarding mental health, you can reach out to the University Counseling Center in McCannel Hall Room 200, or you can call 701-777-2127.  

 

It is also important to mention again 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 experiencing suicidal thoughts or any form of a mental health crisis, please reach out to a crisis hotline. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 988. If you would like to seek out a lifeline catered to LGBTQ+ individuals, The Trevor Project hotline is available to chat over message online at any time, or you can call their number to talk with an available provider at 866-488-7386. The Rape and Abuse Crisis Center can be contacted at 800-656-4673. 

Ava Stockstad is a Dakota Student Reporter. She can be reached at [email protected]