Reprinted from "Campuses" issue of Visions Journal, 2007, 4 (3), p. 32
In the fall of 2006, I encouraged two UBC nursing students (Natalie Rai and Shandell Susin) in my population health course to get involved with Beyond the Blues (BTB). BTB is a Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), BC Division campaign (see sidebar). The students’ task was to plan for and set up education booths at three student residences for the annual BTB Depression Anxiety Education and Screening Day, to be held in October.
An inspired idea
As preparation for understanding the mental health concerns of UBC students, Shandell and Natalie conducted an informal survey of their classmates. They found that stress and anxiety were the top two concerns. They also looked at a survey done on the UBC campus in 2004,1 and another by the American College Health Association2 regarding student mental health and wellness. This survey found that an alarming number of these students reported a high level of stress in their lives, felt overwhelmed and felt unable to cope with life’s demands.
Natalie and Shandell came back to class the following week with yellow balloons and a poster board display titled “Are You Going Bananas?”Hmm. What did bananas have to do with mental health?
“Bananas are the key to maintaining our mental wellness as eating fresh fruit and vegetables boosts energy levels, helps improve mood and generally makes you feel better,” they said. “Bananas contain vitamin B6 and potassium, which can make students feel more alert, increase their concentration and decrease stress levels during exam times.”
And “going bananas” is slang for “to be irrational and wild; to lose control,” or “to react with extreme or irrational distress or composure.”3 I decided they were on to something!
From milkshakes to coping and getting help
Every Tuesday in the month of September these two students set up their booth at the entrance of a different residence on the UBC campus. They handed out pamphlets, provided by the Canadian Mental Health Association, that talk about mental health and mental illness. They engaged students in conversations about depression, bipolar disorder, panic attacks, phobias, suicide, anxiety, eating disorders, psychosis, schizophrenia, and use of alcohol and drugs. They shared ideas about how to improve personal coping strategies.
And how about bananas? Shandell and Natalie suggested that bananas were effective for hangovers and to shake off late night study sessions: “Try a banana milkshake to increase your alertness in the morning or as a late night study session snack when you get food cravings.”
This opened up conversations about the use of drugs and alcohol on campus, which led to talking about how and where to access resources—such as other Beyond the Blues sites that offer screening and connect people to treatment. They also recommended the website heretohelp.bc.ca, suggesting that students add it as a favourite on their computer desktops.
Observing Natalie and Shandell’s interactions with these students, I was impressed at how readily their Are You Going Bananas? approach opened up conversations about these concerns. This peer-to-peer approach to the BTB campaign was appealing to students and therefore very effective in getting information out.
University of British Columbia
In October 2006, Natalie and Shandell also arranged, through the school nurses, to set up their booth at four secondary schools in Vancouver. They had a lot of positive response from the youth and their teachers.
In November 2006, they set up the booth for the 9th Annual Student Wellness Fair at the UBC Student Union Building. Together with the UBC Wellness Centre, they gave out cards listing “Happiness Tips,” while offering bananas to students. The tips included:
Happiness depends on your state of mind.
Give yourself permission to be human. Practise accepting your emotions.
Engage in activities that are both personally meaningful and enjoyable.
Simplify. Focus on quality instead of quantity.
Be appreciative and thankful. Practise gratitude.
Take care of your body. Physical health influences your mental well-being.
And, of course: Don’t forget to eat bananas.
What Is Beyond the Blues? Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division
Beyond the Blues (BTB) is a high-profile campaign designed to educate people who are concerned about mental illness—and their families and communities—about:
The centrepiece of the campaign is the annual Depression Anxiety Education and Screening Day. Screenings are used as an education tool and to get people talking. There is also the benefit of early detection.
Beyond the Blues aims to empower people, using themes of hope, resilience and recovery. In addition to education around mental health problems, promoting mental well-being is an important part of the event. This includes education about self-care techniques for helping prevent depression or relapses.
The events are free, anonymous and confidential. Appointments aren’t needed. Attendees have the option to complete a brief questionnaire, and speak one-on-one with a clinician. They can also talk, in a non-threatening, supportive environment, to volunteers who are facing similar issues. Many sites feature speakers on different topics.
There are special sites for high school students, post-secondary students, older adults, aboriginal people, multilingual groups, and new mothers.
Beyond the Blues is held every October on the first Thursday of Mental Illness Awareness Week. It is put on by the Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division on behalf of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information. The risky drinking aspect is led by the Centre for Addictions Research of BC.
Roughly 3,500 to 4,000 people attend 60 to 70 local events across BC every year. Over the past 12 years of the project, more than 30,000 people have been helped.
About the author
Paula is an Instructor at the UBC School of Nursing, where she teaches mental health, community health and family nursing. She is an active member of the CMHA annual Depression Screening Day steering committee and represents BC on the board of the Canadian Federation of Mental Health Nurses.
Mirwaldt, P. & Trew, M. (2005). A stressful time: UBC students mental health [PowerPoint]. Presented to the Wellness Re-visioning Committee, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Reports on results of a Web survey administered to 5,000 UBC students in spring 2004. Response rate was 36.4%. Responders included 933 undergraduates and 693 graduate students; 66% were women and 34% men; 49% were white and 40% Asian.
American College Health Association. (2003). The American College Health Association National College Health Assessment (ACHA-NCHA), Spring 2003 Reference Group report. Journal of American College Health, 53(5), 199-210.
Definitions respectively per English Daily at www.englishdaily626.com/slang.php?054, and The Online Slang Dictionary at http://onlineslangdictionary.com/definition+of/go+bananas.