On Monday inside the Taggart Student Center at Utah State University, Mollie Embody observed a wall covered in Polaroid pictures and tried to decide where to place the one just taken of her.
Then, she took a thumb tack and pinned her picture, which included the word “happiness” on it.
Embody and other students were asked to pin a picture of themselves up on the wall and write a word or two describing what gives them hope during an activity that marked the start of USU’s Mental Health Week.
“I think it’d be a beneficial idea to find hope in something and see what other people hope for to help me overcome my depression,” Embody said. “It’s been a big part of my life recently. It’s been really hard.”
During the lunch hour rush on the first floor of the TSC, students flocked to get their photo taken, write something and post it on the wall. “Sunshine,” “people who listen,” “music” and “God’s plan” were just a few of the things people wrote down that gave them hope.
Michael Scott Peters, president of the USU Student Association, talked about the purpose of the “hope wall” with The Herald Journal.
“The wall is helpful because it is a visual representation to our studentbody that mental health is important and it’s a real concern on our campus,” Peters said. “It’s very important that we eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health. Some people think it’s not OK to get help, and they isolate themselves, and that might cause further problems.”
Peters hopes that the wall activity gives students the opportunity have an open discussion on mental health and how everyone can take action.
“That students don’t isolate themselves but they turn this into a conversation ― that’s when we can begin to get help,” he said.
As a freshman, Embody has been going to counseling to treat her depression.
When she’s not seeking professional help or going to classes, she knits ― that’s what makes her happy.
“It helps me to distract from my actual feelings. It’s like a coping mechanism,” she said.
Wayson Foy was another student who pinned his photo up on the “hope wall” on Monday. He said friends, family and horses give him hope. Foy owns three horses in his native Heber City.
“People can get hope from all kinds of things,” he said. “They don’t have to be necessarily human to give you hope.”
Foy said “hope” is one of the most important things in life.
“If you have no hope in life, then more likely than not you cannot be successful,” he said. “If you have even a sliver of hope, you’re giving yourself some sort of a chance.”
Foy does not have mental health problems, but he knows friends who do.
“A lot of times, having hope can at least in a way keep mental health problems from escalating in the future,” he said.
For his part, Foy said he always tries to be a “listening ear” to his friends dealing with mental health.
“I’m no psychiatrist; I don’t always know what to say … but I can always be there to listen,” he said.
Students posting pictures on the “hope wall” Monday was just the start of USUSA’s Mental Health Week. Peters liked the idea and wanted to continue it.
“It’s something that’s becoming increasingly important as time goes on, which is why each year we want to build on the previous Mental Health Week,” Peters said, “so that students can become aware of the resources available on campus and receive the help that they need.”
Addressing students’ mental health needs has been a priority on the part of USU officials over the last few years.
In 2016, the USUSA approved a resolution declaring a “mental health crisis” on campus, and Utah’s other public colleges and universities did the same.
The following year, after listening to students, Rep. Ed Redd, R-Logan, sponsored a campus mental health resolution, which was signed by Gov. Gary Herbert.
Utah’s higher education governing board, the Utah Board of Regents, also formed a taskforce to address the issue. In the fall of 2017, the taskforce released its recommendations, which included requiring institutions to provide Mental Health First Aid courses. The first such courses at USU were provided in the Ellen Eccles Conference Center on March 16.