Thursday, April 27, 2017

#UNLCAPS: A Mental Health Movement

Commons Campaign
COMM 250
27 April 2017
Zach Markon, Abby Bierle, Blake Otte, Trevor Gausman

Proposal and Rhetorical Situation
            The exigence of our campaign was to increase awareness of mental health resources available to students on UNL’s campus, and work to reduce and counter negative stigmas surrounding conversations about mental health.
            Mental illness and mental disorder diagnoses are more prevalent than ever, especially among college students. While the University of Nebraska - Lincoln does offer several resources to students to combat mental health issues, many students fail to utilize those resources, either due to lack of awareness about the help they have access to, or because of the negative stigmas surrounding mental health. Between these two barriers, one can assume that mental health is not as highly prioritized as it should be on the UNL campus. College is a an incredibly stressful time for every student. Between classes, jobs, internships, clubs and more, a jam-packed schedule doesn’t leave a lot of room for relaxation, and mental health is often pushed aside for other obligations. Students suffering from mental illness can become even more overwhelmed by their internal struggle. It is important for students to be able to identify a mental health problem and be able to seek help for it in a safe, comforting environment.
By undergoing this campaign, we set out to combat the stigmas that people have in regard to mental illness by spreading awareness about the mental health issues people face on campus, as well as by collecting data from UNL students regarding how satisfied they are with the way UNL handles student mental health issues. We connected with the University Health Center and CAPS to find a way to spread more information about the resources available to students, as well as to reinforce the idea that mental health issues shouldn't be connected with such negative stereotypes. When we talked with CAPS directly, they told us that the biggest thing they needed from us was the spreading of information about various mental health issues on campus as well as the CAPS program itself. Our goal to make campus a safe and supportive environment for everyone is shared by the CAPS program, and tackling the issues of awareness has been a step in the right direction.
            The rhetorical situation we faced was college students who constantly have their attention drawn from one place to another. We believe our campaign involved a very important issue, and we needed to find a way to attain agency on a rhetorical audience that has a wide array of other issues to worry about. The only way to do this was to inject new information into their everyday life. We chose to apply the informationist model of communication, as the lack of awareness on campus is what we saw to be the biggest issue standing in the way of progress. Luckily, the timing of our project falls in sync with increased conversation about the importance of mental health.
            Our group explored multiple avenues in hopes of creating an effective rhetorical campaign. In order to obtain more information on the current conversation surrounding mental health on campus, we sent out an online survey regarding mental health awareness and services. We also conducted this same survey with hard copies (about 40 surveys) to give to students in person. With the online surveys our audience could feel comfortable answering honestly while remaining anonymous in their answers and experiences with mental health. In this way we took away the real-name culture of mental health and gave the audience a sense of patient confidentiality, as they would receive in CAPS treatment in the event that they needed it. The hard copy versions of the surveys, on the other hand, allowed us to talk to the students who didn’t mind not being anonymous. This gave us more information through one-on-one discussions with some of the survey takers, and allowed us to talk to students in a more informal way. This made some students feel more comfortable and open to talking honestly about mental health. All of the information gathered from these surveys we sent to the health center for them to examine and use for future reference when coming up with better ways to tackle mental health issues on campus.
Another one of our biggest tasks was to create attractive posters (pictured below) that helped break down the stigma of mental health and provided information about the resources on campus. We placed them all throughout campus in hopes of breaking into the public sphere with the use of identification, and we also got permission from the health center to post them around the building. They agreed that the posters were informative and helped to spread awareness about what CAPS is and the services that it provides. We worked with CAPS in order to create posters that were accurate and reflective of their values. This was a direct implementation of the informationist model, because we were quite simply delivering facts to our audience. We included deliberative rhetoric in our posters in order to create a sense of urgency in raising awareness of mental health on campus.

The three posters we created as part of our Commons Campaign. The posters were created in collaboration with the University Health Center and distributed around campus.
Towards the end of our campaign, we decided to take advantage of the growing “clicktivism” among college students after the “13 Reasons Why” Netflix release, and asked them to take their newfound knowledge to social media. This popular series about a young woman dying by suicide sparked immense conversation about mental health, and that was obvious on campus. After creating fact and information sheets, we started to hand them out to students around campus. We handed out posters at the student union and asked students to take a photo with it using the hashtag #UNLCAPS to post on their social media.
We asked students to take pictures with the posters and post it on social media with #UNLCAPS as the caption.
That way, if someone clicked on the hashtag, they could see there was a running conversation about gaining awareness of mental health. We created a networked space for everyone hoping to get involved with improving awareness and diminishing stigmas of mental health issues.
            By conducting a survey, reaching out to students directly about how they feel the university handles health problems, and by connecting with UNL Counseling and Psychological Services, our group was able to provide CAPS with data that they will be able to use in the future when they are creating new programs, reworking old programs, or when they are spreading information about mental health issues to students. Through our examination of the data, we discovered that most people who took the survey found UNL to be lacking in providing information and help with anxiety related issues. We sent this information to the health center with hopes that they will create more specific programs for anxiety, and with the hope that students will learn more about anxiety related problems and get the help they need. Another thing the survey revealed was that some people felt the counseling provided at UNL wasn't as effective as it could be. Some felt disconnected with the counselors provided to them, and they felt that their problems may not have been taken as seriously as they would have liked. By passing this information along to CAPS, they might be able to use this feedback to make improvements to how they present counselors to students, or the counselors themselves may think of new ways to connect with students to help them feel more validated and cared for when opening up about sensitive topics.
            We believe that the biggest success we had was in the survey, which allowed us to help CAPS improve its on-campus awareness, and gave them information on what students think should be improved upon for a better overall environment. We found out the strengths, weaknesses and overall thoughts on the psychological services available on campus, which could truly make a difference for future students in need. We also created a conversation just out of the survey itself, as people who may not have been aware of CAPS before taking the survey now knew there were resources on campus. When talking to some of the students directly after they had taken the (written) survey, many expressed that overall, they thought UNL provided adequate information and services related to mental health, but that there was also significant room for improvement. The survey allowed students to voice where they thought that improvement was needed, on top of also allowing them to express what they found beneficial about UNL’s resources for mental health. This information can prove to be useful to CAPS when they look at where to make improvements.
            Another beneficial aspect of the surveys is that we decided to conduct the survey online, as well as give the survey out in person to get more one-on-one reactions and responses to the questions and overall idea of mental health on campus. The online survey allowed us to gather a large amount of data over a relatively short amount of time, and gave us side-by-side comparisons of the answers people gave to each question. This allowed us to see the most common answers to each question, as well as allowing us to analyze the data in a more efficient way. The surveys we gave out in person may have made people think more consciously about their answers because we were able to answer any questions they may have had about the survey, as well as answer any questions unrelated to the survey but related to student mental health on campus. This way of conducting the survey started many conversations after the surveys were returned to us, often about the overall outlook students had about mental health on campus and what else they thought UNL could be doing to help students who suffer from mental health issues.
            Another thing we were able to use when putting together this campaign was the release of the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.” As soon as the show came out, we decided to capitalize on our newfound kairos and start the #UNLCAPS hashtag. The storytelling aspect of the show was much more emotionally effective than any statistics we could have talked about. We found people were much more willing to post on social media about mental illness after this show came out. This was a great example of using timing as an important rhetorical strategy for success. We believe this was actually one of the most important parts of our campaign because it taught us to be aware of the conversation around us, as well as what is popular enough among our audience (UNL students) to play a part in our campaign. We used our cognitive surplus to continue adding to the conversation, even if it’s just the discussion of a Netflix show.
Something we overlooked would be that with most of our rhetorical audience receiving all of their information online, we should have implemented more of a digital presence to fully capture the use of clicktivism sooner. A simple page on social media could have spread like wildfire after catching the eye of just one person. With mental health being a growing issue in this country, most students would not scroll past content about it on their own campus. With one person stopping to read and share a page on the prevalence of mental health, it would have spread to each of the hundreds of friends that follow them which in turn leads to hundreds more. Just like that, we could have educated hundreds of people on not only the prevalence of mental illness but the inaccurate stigmas and help centers that come with it. If we had another chance, we definitely would implement a digital and online campaign from the start, rather than just waiting until we had a good opportunity.

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