Editor’s note: This story was written by Kati Keller.
Be on the lookout for green bandanas on campus! Student-athlete and senior psychology major Justine Schultz brings the Green Bandana Project to SMU
“If we’re not talking about it, it’s getting heavy on our shoulders, getting heavy on the inside and we can’t get it out.” ~Schultz on mental health and seeking help
Senior psychology major and softball player Justine Schultz started the Green Bandana Project on campus last semester. A total of 224 St. Mary’s students received mental health training and green bandanas as part of the project so far.
Green bandanas mark students who have received this training and are safe individuals you can approach with mental health-related issues and concerns. They know of available resources for those seeking help, acting as a bridge between those in need of help and professionals.
Schultz was emphatic about the bandanas being there for a reason. She said, “You’re not just wearing it to be a part of a cool societal trend. You’re there to help people. You’re there to save someone’s life if that’s what it comes to.”
This is why she believes having training is so important. The two-hour training session gives an overview of varying mental illnesses and their symptoms, why they are significant, and what resources there are to help.
Schultz said that while many campuses do not require training (the Project being a national initiative that exists in many forms), she feels training is “extremely important… so we’re not putting other people in danger” if unaware of how to handle a situation.
By wearing the bandana, Schultz said, “you’re saying that you are there for someone, you can provide resources for them, you can help them.” However, she goes on, “You are not their therapist… you’re giving them resources to go talk to a professional.”
Drawing from personal experiences, she said, “I’ve gone through a lot of stuff, too, and people got me help when I needed it. I think that’s… why I’m so big on the Green Bandana Project… When you live through it, you don’t want anyone else to experience it as well.”
Regarding seeking help, Schultz said, “I think there’s a lot of stigma involved in that, and I think we’re getting better as a society, but then it’s still super prevalent.”
Being a student-athlete relates to Schultz’s advocacy of seeking help and removing stigma. Schultz said, “I’m an athlete, but that kind of stereotype that athletes are mentally tough all the time is not true. And I think that leading by example helps.”
Schultz said that hearing the statistic that 1 in 10 college students consider suicide is “super powerful,” especially when considering her softball teammates, thinking about how two or three of them in the room with her could likely be affected.
According to St. Mary’s Green Bandana Project website, there are more than 1,000 suicides each year on college campuses in America. Students aged 15-24 are in the highest risk group for a majority of mental illnesses, but 1 in 4 will not seek help or treatment.
Schultz said, “When you bring out statistics, and then you talk about them on our campus, that brings out the realness that mental illness is on our campus and that people do need that help. And a lot of people need that help to get to those resources.”
“I take pride in being a part of a school that allows tremendous student involvement and leadership,” Schultz said. “I’m extremely grateful to be an advocate for mental health and to help run the Green Bandana Project at St. Mary’s.”
Schultz said she would not be able to run the project without the help of Karen Hempker, director of Access Services and Sam Borawski, Student Athlete Advisory Committee advisor and assistant softball coach at St. Mary’s. She said, “They were a great help connecting with other people and getting things organized.”
Borawski, meanwhile, said that Justine “definitely had a vision and [is] somebody who’s a go-getter, so it’s been great to work with her and see all this come to fruition. Two hundred people is a huge achievement, especially when it’s been in pretty much a year.”
Speaking more broadly, Borawski sees an important connection between mental and physical health. She said, “It’s exciting to see all of our student-athletes on campus who take mental health seriously and not only want to better themselves but also know how to help others.” Making sure that they have “a high understanding of mental health as well as knowing where resources are makes for an overall healthier campus and community.”
In relation to the Green Bandana Project, the virtual run/walk Run “2” for SMU took place late Oct. Schultz said that this event’s message was, “No matter where we are, we can run against the stigma of mental health together.” Shirts that say OneTeam are being sold now through Nov. 5. Representatives at St. Mary’s will deliver the shirts to your campus mailbox. All proceeds will directly benefit the Project.
“Everyday we can become mentally healthier. Staying strong does not mean you have to stay silent. Let’s break the stigma and understand that mental health is the foundation to physical health.”
~Justine Schultz, Class of 2020
The project started as a response to the suicide of a UW-River Falls professor’s son. The project was first started in Winona by Connie Metille at Winona State. Metille brought it up to Karen Hemker, director of Access Services at SMU, who then discussed it with Schultz. Hempker, Schultz, and Borawski then started it at SMU. The first training at SMU took place Jan. 12, 2020, with 55 student-athletes.
The Green Bandana Project is supported by many individuals, departments, and organizations across campus, including Tim Gossen, Ed.D., vice president for Student Affairs and Student Life; the Student Athlete Advisory Committee; St. Mary’s mental health task force; and St. Mary’s counseling and health services.