Saturday is the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, and South Carolina Athletics is collaborating with campus mental health initiatives to help eliminate stigmas surrounding mental health and increase mental health resources on college campuses. Fans and students are encouraged to follow @healthycarolina_UofSC on Instagram for the latest information.
"It's a national initiative to raise awareness of mental health concerns, reduce the stigma and increase understanding of those living with mental illness as well as those who love or take care of people with a mental illness," said April Scott, Associate Director of Mental Health Initiatives with Student Health Services. "One way of fighting stigma is increasing awareness and conversations around the topic. The more you can have people talk about it and become educated, the more understanding they are. That stigma is a big barrier for people even going out and seeking help."
The last several months have been stressful for many people due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, and more people are seeking help.
"Across the nation, college counseling services have seen a significant increase in demand to the point where very few are able to meet the demand for services," Scott said. "One way that we try to help with that is to promote the preventive side of mental health. Mental health is something you can work on every day, just like we do with our physical health. We want to prevent or reduce the number of students who need those intervention services. We can help with things like wellness coaching, meditation, or stress management sessions. We have a number of services available."
"So many people are struggling. We're seeing that a lot, especially with the pandemic, with people who wouldn't normally consider themselves having a mental illness," said Sarah Noll, Director of Mental Health for South Carolina Athletics. "Mental health isn't necessarily about having a diagnosis. It's about taking care of yourself emotionally and making sure you are coping well.
"The Mental Health Initiatives group supports the theme, 'Together we can heal. Together we can help. Together we can hope.'"
Mental Health Awareness Week kicks off on Saturday with Hilinski's Hope promoting #3Day, which is a call to action for universities across the nation to participate. Hilinski's Hope is a non-profit foundation founded by the Hilinski family following the suicide of former Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski. Ryan Hilinski is a sophomore quarterback for the Gamecocks.
The idea is that those who may be silently suffering with mental health issues will know they're not alone when they see the green ribbon associated with the cause, or by seeing the student-athletes and fans holding up three fingers at the start of the third quarter. The same action will occur the following Saturday as well.
"I believe 16 schools have agreed to do something on Saturday," Noll said. "We'll be holding up three (fingers) in the third (quarter) to promote solidarity and fighting the mental health stigma.
"We're also collaborating with the campus mental health initiatives to promote an almost all virtual week."
Mental Health Awareness Week continues with what is called #selfcareSunday.
"We encourage people to take pictures doing something around self-care, whether it's doing yoga, reading a book, taking a walk or whatever it may be and then linking or tagging @healthycarolina_UofSC," Noll said.
On Monday, they'll post interviews with a couple of students, one being a student-athlete and one being a mental health ambassador on campus. They'll talk about what mental health and mental wellness means to them.
Tuesday will be a "Check-in Challenge," where individuals are encouraged to check-in with their peers just to see how everyone is doing. In times of stress where many people have been isolated, it is important to reach out to anyone that you may not have seen as often as in the past.
There will also be a Mid-day Meditation on Wednesday where students can participate virtually via the Gamecocks Live Well Facebook page or the @healthycarolina_UofSC Instagram page.
"Meditation has been shown to improve our ability to tolerate stress," Scott said. "It also has physical benefits, such as lowering blood pressure.
"Thursday is World Depression Screening day. We'll be located outside of the Russell House on the patio area from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. We'll also have a location in the Athletics Village from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. Students can scan a Q-R code with their phone, and they'll be taken to a mental health screening where they can get assessment and feedback on how they're doing. We'll also have information about additional resources available to them."
Friday's activities feature a virtual art gallery at 5 p.m. Art supplies will be available for students to pickup on Monday at the Russell House patio to address the theme, "Together we can heal. Together we can help. Together we can hope."
"We'll ask students to use that prompt to draw an image that embodies that idea," Scott said. "We can help heal one another. People don't have to go through these challenges alone. We'll ask them to submit that via email, or by DM, or by tagging us on social media. We'll do a virtual art gallery on our @healthycarolina_UofSC page and showcase that artwork.
South Carolina student-athletes have access to a wide variety of mental health professionals, and all students, faculty and staff are encouraged to check out the resources that are available for everyone in the campus community.
For more information, visit www.sc.edu/mentalhealth.