Claire McNamara, left, and Jie Chen, right, pose holding a sign that reads "No Stigma Nevada". The campaign aims to end the stigma towards mental illness.

Claire McNamara, left, and Jie Chen, right, pose holding a sign that reads “No Stigma Nevada”. The campaign aims to end the stigma towards mental illness.

May is Mental Health Awareness month and University of Nevada, Reno, students are joining in on the observance with the official launch of a new campaign called “No Stigma Nevada”.

“No Stigma Nevada” is a social media campaign that aims to bring awareness and conversation to the issue of stigma amongst college students, especially those surrounding mental health.

Kim Palchikoff, the social work intern for the Disability Resources Center, has been working to organize the campaign as a part of a project for her internship.

“Our goal is to make UNR a stigma-free campus,” Palchikoff said. “A place where students will feel comfortable to talk about their feelings, to speak up about problems, and to just bring awareness to stigma… and create conversation.”

Drawing inspiration from the Ice Bucket challenge that raised awareness and money for Lou Gehrig’s disease, the No Stigma Nevada campaign is aiming to create more discussion about stigmas that plague the campus.

“We’re going to keep it a little more simple, so there is no bucket of ice, no water, or money. It is just a sign, and something all students seem to love, selfies,”  Palchikoff said.

Students and faculty have already begun to take selfies with a colorful sign that reads “No Stigma NV”. The sign will be able to be printed off the campaign’s Facebook page, and Palchikoff said she encourages people to share their personal stories and experience with stigma along with their selfies to social media with #NoStigmaNV.

The Nevada Sagebrush reported earlier in the year that the campaign was initially going to be a part of the new Active Minds Club coming to campus. However, until the Active Minds national office sanctions them, they are changing their name to No Stigma Nevada.

The campaign, though it is kicking off this month in celebration of Mental Health Awareness month, will officially begin at the start of the 2017-2018 school year, and Palchikoff says she hopes to organize fun events to increase participation and awareness of the social media campaign on campus.

Currently, No Stigma Nevada is hosting events within the dorm communities. One of their recent events was a “No Stigma” ice cream social, with different toppings that each had a tip to avoid stigmas as well as stress.

History has shown how harmful stigma against those with mental health illnesses can be. Marta Elliot, a professor in the department of sociology at UNR, published a study in 2015 titled “Stigma Management of Mental Illness: Effects of Concealment, Discrimination, and Identification on Well-Being”, that surveyed undergraduate students on the UNR campus.

In the introduction to her study, Elliot explains how stigma can lead to discrimination at school, in the workplace, and everyday life.

“Research has documented that the stigma associated with mental illness leads people to discriminate against them, such as being unwilling to rent them apartments or to hire them,” Elliot said in her study.

The study also explored how being diagnosed with a mental illness and the perceptions of stigma associated with it can, directly and indirectly, influence psychological well-being among college students.

“Among college students with a self-reported mental illness we found that personal and group discrimination were each negatively related to well-being,” Elliot said in the study.

One key finding from Elliot’s work is that individuals being aware of the societal stigmas against mental illness—as most are—discourages them from socially identifying and connecting with others with a mental illness, which is an important part of recovery and mental health.

Though the University has placed emphasis on resources for those with mental health issues like the counseling and health center, more can be done to help students with mental illnesses combat these harmful stigmas.

Early in February, Governor Sandoval announced a proposed cut to the state’s already underfunded mental health budget by $20 million. The cut would also include eliminating 112 positions, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal.

That is why Palchikoff argues the campaign is so important. With a potential decrease in the availability and ease of access to private mental health services in the state, it will become even more crucial for those suffering from any form of mental illness to seek help and support outside the medical field. She says she hopes that as more people post selfies and share their stories, people will feel more comfortable socially identifying with others.

The Disability Resource Center on campus reported in the fall of 2016 that UNR serviced 636 students with some type of psychological disability, a dramatic increase from the 224 students reported in fall of 2011.

“UNR administration and staff are well aware of the campus’s mental health problem among students,” Palchikoff said, “It’s time to expand and change the conversation on campus to bring about real change and improve the climate for students with mental health issues, and I think UNR students are ready for that to happen and ready for a no stigma campus.”

Emily Fisher can be reached at efisher@sagebrush.unr.edu and on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.