Mental Health Advocates

Destigmatizing mental health concerns

In a sea of Bulldogs fans and concession stands, two students sit at a fold-out table. Unlike their peers, Julia Gronholz and Elle Potts are not in the AMSOIL Arena to watch a hockey game. Rather, they are there to end the stigma surrounding mental health.

A white backpack branded with "UMD Softball" with a green bandana tied to it

Potts and Gronholz are co-presidents of the Green Bandana Project, an awareness campaign led by student athletes at UMD. By tying green bandanas to their backpacks, students show their support and solidarity for anybody who is struggling with their mental health. Many students also carry cards with local and national mental health resources.

The Green Bandana Project addresses a very real problem. An estimated 60% of college students meet the criteria for at least one mental health condition. In addition, suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students, accounting for 1,100 deaths on college campuses per year.

Ever since its formation in 2019, UMD’s Green Bandana Project has found new and innovative ways to spread their message. “We're trying to reach everybody in the community,” said Potts. Both she and Gronholz are juniors on the UMD women’s softball team.

In 2021, the organization began hosting Mental Health Awareness Games. Athletes are given themed warm-up shirts and members of the Green Bandana Project set up shop. The students tabling have two jobs. “We sell bandanas at the games, but we're also there to provide resources,'' said Gronholz.

For the 2022-23 season, all of UMD’s sports teams hosted an awareness game. Each team has a chance to use their own voices to speak out, and counseling staff from UMD Health Services speaks to each team leading up to their awareness game.

In recognition of the Green Bandana Project’s efforts, UMD was awarded the 2022 NCAA Division II Award of Excellence. “Our athletic department has done a great job of making mental health approachable,” said Potts. “It's something that we can talk about more openly now.”

Five of the Green Bandana team at a table full of swag during a 2022-23 season game

The Green Bandana Project also partners with YOUmatter, an organization also focused on mental health awareness and destigmatization. One of their joint ventures is the annual Speak Out Night, where local mental health resources and organizations are showcased.

Above all, Speak Out Night is a space for students to share their stories. Talking openly about mental health is just one more way to end the stigma, and to let people know that they are not alone.

Awareness games and speak out nights have made an impact on UMD’s campus. At the heart of the Green Bandana Project, however, is still that simple piece of fabric.

“When someone asks what the bandanas are for, it’s a big deal,” said Gronholz. “That question is an open door to tell them about what we’re fighting for.”

If you, or someone you know, needs help, please call 988 or contact UMD's Health Services.