• Lauren Reeves

MSU SAAC introduces Green Bandana Project for mental health awareness

Last year in May, Haley Hildenbrand, junior chemistry major and president of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC), attended a conference with other SAAC representatives. During the event, Winona State University introduced the Green Bandana Project, a program that helps bring mental health awareness to students — especially student-athletes.

Hildenbrand explained that people will wear green bandanas around campus to show they’re willing to listen to and help anyone who’s struggling. After months of work, the project will be a part of Minot State University this semester.

According to Hildenbrand, the project will start with student-athletes because two gymnasts at Winona State began the project. She also feels that athletes have the hardest time talking about or seeking out help for mental health issues because they are put in the school’s spotlight.

“A lot of people perceive us having everything. We get all the fancy gear, we get to be in extra places on campus, we get the academic center, and we get extra things,” said Hildenbrand. “For us to bring up our problems, other people could perceive that as us just being ungrateful for what we have. The spotlight is on us, and I think it’s hard for people to break out and say, ‘hey I’m actually struggling with this.’ I think it’s kind of the stigma with all athletes. They just assume that we’re fine because we’re seen in the public eye.”

Hildenbrand wants people to talk about mental health and create an avenue where athletes and students can reach out and get help. She wants them to feel as though they have someone to talk to about their issues and that it is okay to seek out help.

“Mental illness affects everyone. The struggles that you have with mental illness as a nonathlete could be very similar to the ones that are also happening to an athlete, but just the way the spotlight is on them, it’s harder for them to express how that’s affecting them,” she said.

Hildenbrand hopes the Green Bandana Project helps students talk about their mental health and seek help from others around them. She also gave advice for freshmen students and athletes who are scared to ask for help.

“You can go up to anyone with a green bandana and they’ll be an ear for you, and they can help point you in the direction of resources,” said Hildenbrand. “I would tell freshmen not to be scared to go up to teammates that are juniors and seniors because they have been in the same place. They know what you are going through. In a way, it’s comforting for us to know that we can be there for you as much as you can be there for us.”

SAAC plans to have a table display in the lobby of the Minot State University Dome where students will be able to pick up green bandanas, make a pledge to the project, and receive mental health information cards. Hildenbrand said they plan to keep the table out year-round for students to visit.

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