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You Matter at UNI

GABBY LEITNER
Hunter Flesch, student body president, gets hugged by TC and TK at the kick-off.

LEGIZA BARIKOR, Copy Editor

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The kick-off of UNI’s first mental health awareness week this Monday held a special significance for a pair of sisters. Megan Bradford, freshman,  and Madison, junior, recently lost their cousin, Austin Burke, to suicide before the official start of the 2016-17 school year.

Madison said that her cousin had one semester left before graduation. Both Madison and her cousin Austin were majoring in textiles and apparel.

When Megan heard about the event through her RA and Facebook, she thought it would be a good opportunity for her and her sister to do something in remembrance of their cousin.

“It’s important to really show people that you care and make everyone feel loved because everyone does matter and they need to know that,” Madison said.

“Everyone in our program knew Austin for his amazing sewing abilities,” Madison said. “Every time the fashion show came around he just had the most beautiful collection. Walk on the stage and everyone was just in awe at his work, so everyone will definitely remember him for that.”

Mental health became a central issue for members of Northern Iowan Student Government (NISG), leading then-sophomores, Hunter Flesch and Avery Johnson to put mental health initiatives at the forefront of their campaign for president and vice presidency.

Now NISG President Flesch and VP Johnson were able to make good on their campaign promise by kicking off “You Matter at UNI” at the campanile from 11-2 p.m. The NISG led program hosted a friendly gathering with cookies, hot chocolate and flags of remembrance.

“The flags that we’re putting in Lawther field are just messages supporting mental health awareness,” said Flesch. “Students can write messages of support they can write in memory of someone they lost to suicide just any positive message that they feel like a student might need to hear, so students can walk up and look at all the messages and hopefully brighten their day.”

Also surrounding the campanile, there was tabling by the Student Wellness Center, To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) and NISG leaders selling T-shirts with the “You Matter at UNI” slogan in their chosen theme color of lime green, with all the proceeds going to directly help support students who can’t afford psychiatric services according to Flesch.

“You know as the interim president of the University of Northern Iowan, this [mental health] is something we talk about probably more than we did 10, 15, 20 years ago so this is a thing that is a regular topic of conversation among the leadership on the campus,” said Interim President Jim Wohlpart.

“I’ve always been an advocate for mental health and raising awareness and I think our university does a pretty good job of supporting and raising awareness for the cause,” said Madison.

Other students also shared stories similar to Megan and Madison’s of losing people to suicide. Freshman social work major and TWLOHA member Becca McDowell shared hers.

“There have been five suicides at my high school that I went to and I’m actually going to be a mental health counselor. That’s why I’m doing social work,” said McDowell. “I think it’s good that they’re actually advertising it because our school [Johnson High School] never really talked about mental health and I think that’s why we had so many suicides.”

Baylee Frisch, sophomore studio arts major and vice president of TWLOHA, was a volunteer for the event tabling for her organization. She shared her experiences with mental health issues.

“Personally I struggle from different mental health issues myself, I’ve also seen how it’s impacted family members and friends of mine so it’s a very important issue,” said Frisch. “I’ve personally lost two people to suicide and I don’t want anyone to lose their battles anymore and I want to let people know that there’s support and hope and healing.”

For grad assistant Tiffany Allen who has lost a couple friends in high school to suicide, she thinks that the conversation events like this allow to happen are very impactful.

“I think it’s really going to get the campus motivated to learn more about mental health and […] learn more about the resources that are around campus and more things that they can get involved in and just help promote mental health,” said Allen.

You Matter at UNI continued this week with a Friend-to-Friend training with UNI counselors, a “Secret Regrets” presentation on Wednesday, and this Thursday they will host a De-Stress Day in Rod Library and will continue taking donations up to Friday.

For those interested in more mental health information or resources visit the Student Health Center website https://www.uni.edu/health/ or call the Student Health Center at (319) 273-2009.

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You Matter at UNI