DEPAUL — With final exams for the winter quarter set to begin next week, three DePaul University students are urging their classmates to "de-stress" through a mental-health campaign allowing, "It's tough to be tough."
"It's hard to decipher between a healthy amount of stress and overwhelmed," said Sydney Bickel, a senior from Palm Beach, Fla. "So we want people to know it is tough to be tough, and sometimes you are just way too stressed out."
Joash Mencias, a senior from suburban Wheaton, said it's intended to "help students, encourage students to be mindful about their mental well-being."
"Students don't feel comfortable talking about anxiety or depression," said Andrew Willett, a sophomore from Cleveland. "It's mostly positive self-care or poor self-care. That's what we're really focusing on is positive self-care."
And, even more than that, the idea that some issues are best not handled oneself. Bickel said the Tough to Be Tough campaign emphasizes the notion of "the DePaul community" and that it's OK to "lean on DePaul resources, lean on your friends."
The campaign grew out of a class project, as Bickel, Mencias and Willett were selected as students majoring in public relations and advertising to represent DePaul in the national Bateman Competition against about 70 other schools. That competition, this year based on a "Campaign to Change Direction," is ongoing, with the students monitoring their progress through online analytics (there have been 500 likes for the It's Tough to Be Tough Facebook page, which has a reach of 40,000).
Yet along the way the project took on a life of its own as something necessary and beneficial to students.
"It started off as a PR campaign, but it's turned into a personal cause of ours," Mencias said Wednesday as the three sat and talked in the Student Center.
Part of that was the research they dug up showing that "underrepresented" minority communities at college, including African-Americans, Hispanics and lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender and queer people, were more prone to mental pitfalls due to "lack of access to proper health care or due to cultural stigma or religious barriers," Mencias said. "We're trying to reduce that stigma, get rid of it, say, 'Hey, it's OK to be mindful about your mental health and talk about it and not just tough it out.'"
To that end, they held a Comfort Food Cook-Off Wednesday night, setting up a buffet in the Student Center with sliders, white-cheddar popcorn and other student staples, as well as ethnic foods brought in by fraternities, sororities and other student groups. Bickel said it would be "a fun way to talk about emotional well-being and emotional distress."
"Talk about something a little more light-hearted before you dive into the deep stuff," Willett added. "Because if you dive right in it's too clinical and almost scares people away."
Since the three aren't psych majors, they aim foremost to steer students in need toward university resources such as the Office of Health Promotion and Wellness, which they frequently join as partners on events. Yet part of that is recognizing when some form of treatment is needed, and Bickel pointed to five signs of emotional suffering — personality change, poor health care, hopelessness, withdrawal and agitation — that might signal it's time to seek advice from someone other than yourself.
Again, though, they aim for a gentle, guiding approach, as with a Cozy Corner "pop-up shop" they set up at various places on campus, which Willett called "our fishnet." It's sort of a comfort station for students, complete with cookies and a stuffed bear, and it borrows a device from the World Series-winning Cubs in that it also has a chalkboard for students to list topics of comfort and stress, the way Cub fans drew on the Wrigley Field wall last fall.
They've also borrowed the Cubs' #FlytheW hashtag for #Flythe5, in which students are encouraged to join in a five-day campaign showing ways they reduce stress on social media. Bickel said she's enjoyed that herself and found it rewarding.
"Making myself take that position and talk about it is making me de-stressed," she said. "Before that, I didn't really talk about mental health. But now I feel much more comfortable talking about it, posting on Facebook or getting my friends to talk about it."
Mencias has done it as well.
And on Thursday at 5 p.m. they'll again partner with the Office of Health Promotion and Wellness at the Student Center for an event on alcohol ahead of the weekend's St. Patrick's Day parade and other festivities. Willet said they'd target LGBTQ students by setting up areas to decorate fanny packs, to be used to carry water and healthy snacks, as well as a phone charger. Students will also be urged to eat regular meals to minimize the effects of alcohol.
"You know it's going to happen," Bickel said. "But we want people to take the right steps to not overdo it."
The three will be spending the spring quarter, in part, measuring how effective their campaign has been and how many people it's reached as part of the Bateman Competition, but they see Tough to Be Tough as something that should endure at DePaul and not just come to a close with the end of the school year.
"That's the goal," Willett said.