500 balloons scattered across quad to raise mental health awareness

ARIEL ROBBINS / AGGIE
ARIEL ROBBINS / AGGIE

Nonexistent clear balloon representative of common mental health struggle on college campuses.

On Tuesday, Jan. 12, nearly 500 colored balloons were scattered across the Quad and Memorial Union. The true mystery: where was the clear balloon? Students were challenged to locate the one balloon void of color among the hundreds of balloons, many of which displayed messages prompting students to attend an event later that evening where the location of the clear balloon was to be unveiled.

Later in the day, many students and faculty attended the Student Resiliency and Mental Health Fair at the UC Davis Conference Center. The event was spearheaded by Caitlin Isobe, an intern at the Behavioral Health Center of Excellence. At the beginning of event, Active Minds President Brenna Williams announced that the notorious clear balloon did not exist.

“The clear balloon represents a college student that is unaffected by mental health issues,” Williams said.

The balloons were set up to pique students’ interest and direct them to the fair later that evening. According to Isobe, each balloon color represented a different mental illness, with the balloon colors corresponding to the percentage of those affected on college campuses.

According to Williams, a majority of the balloons were light and dark blue to represent anxiety and depression — two mental health challenges that she said are extremely common among college students. The absence of the clear balloon was meant to demonstrate the fact that a college student unaffected by a mental health challenge does not exist.

Active Minds, a campus club that seeks to change the conversation about mental health by raising awareness and educating others about mental illnesses and issues, was one of many student clubs present at the Student Resiliency and Mental Health Fair. Representatives from the ASUCD Office of Advocacy; the Center for Advocacy, Resources and Education (CARE); the Student Health and Wellness Committee and the Women’s Resource and Research Center were also present and provided students with tips and tools to reduce stress as well as to raise awareness for various mental health issues.

Multiple guest speakers at the event highlighted the importance of reducing the stigma around mental illness, both on college campuses and in surrounding communities. Sierra College student Jordana Steinberg was the primary speaker at the event and spoke about her personal challenges with mental and behavioral health. She is the daughter of former California State Senator Darrell Steinberg, a long-time champion of mental health for the state of California and the current director of policy and advocacy at the UC Davis Behavioral Health Center of Excellence.

“Rock bottom for me was the moment that I landed myself in juvenile hall,” Jordana said. “My behavior was so out of control that it became apparent to those who loved me that I needed more intensive care to get back on my feet.”

Jordana spent the next five years at four different residential treatment facilities and struggled with many obstacles. The chaos of her teenage years not only led her to experience significant emotional stress and turmoil, but to also fall behind in her academic life.

“All my life I had felt this sense of shame for not being where everyone else was and for struggling in such a way that no one else could understand,” Jordana said.

Jordana expressed the importance of having a peer-based support system for dealing with mental health issues on college campuses. She asserted that the negative stigma associated with mental health would be lessened if college students had resources to become educated on mental health issues as well as learn how to provide peer-based support to those struggling.

Prior to Jordana speaking, her father spoke to the significance of the mental health conversation on college campuses.

“It’s a labor of love,” Darrell said, with regard to his legislative accomplishments for mental health in California. “Mental health on the college campus is a crucial issue because it involves, in my opinion, a leading strategy for prevention and early intervention in our mental health system.”

In 2004, Darrell authored Proposition 63, otherwise known as the Mental Health Services Act, which called for the raising of taxes to provide additional funding for county mental health programs. Prop. 63 passed and has since provided many California counties with additional means to augment services for those struggling with mental illnesses; it now generates $1.8 billion a year.

According to Darrell, 20 percent of the funds gathered through Prop. 63 has to be spent towards prevention and early intervention programs.

“While 20 percent of the money must be spent on prevention and early intervention, our […] goal is to ensure that 80 percent of the public investment is spent on prevention and therefore only 20 percent has to be spent on back-end services,” Darrell said.

He emphasized the necessity of ensuring that a portion of the funds reach college campuses to help develop services for students.

“If we don’t invest in mental health services for young people, we are never going to ultimately solve the problems of the criminalization of [the] mentally ill, the plight of the homeless mentally ill, all the monies that are spent on full service partnership and on the back-end of our failure to invest in prevention and early intervention,” Darrell said.

Written by: LAURA FITZGERALD – campus@theaggie.org