College can be a trying time for students. But for those uncertain who to turn to for help dealing with a mental illness, it can be downright tragic.

At Central Lakes College, students and staff are trying to fix that.

The Green Bandana Project at Central Lakes College is a mental health awareness and suicide prevention campaign that uses backpacks and lime-green bandanas in an effort to change lives.

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“We have a videography program and so this fall students created the video for it,” said Suzie Karsnia, the counselor for the Central Lakes College campuses in Brainerd and Staples.

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Karsnia hopes to get more students involved in the marketing and awareness of the project next year when more will have received the COVID-19 vaccine and return for in-person classes.

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“It really is supposed to be or should be student-run. But because of COVID, we didn’t have students on campus,” Karsnia said of the project.

The Green Bandana Project was founded at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus in 2016. The idea was inspired by “Dan’s Bandana Project” at UW-River Falls, which asked students to pledge to support others’ mental health.

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“We actually got the bandanas last year — and then COVID hit — and so we didn’t get it up and running last year,” Karsnia said. “The whole idea around it is to be able to tie the bandana around a backpack, and it shows solidarity and support for one another, reducing the stigma.”

Students ages 15 to 24 are in the highest risk group for a majority of mental illnesses, but 25% of them will not seek help or treatment, according to The Green Bandana Project officials.

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“If someone signs up, takes The Green Bandana Project pledge, then they commit to carrying resource cards around with them, so if someone approaches them, they will have cards of where to get mental health help,” Karsnia said.

One in 10 students will have considered suicide before graduation, according to The Green Bandana Project website, and 28% of students would not know where to go on campus to get mental or emotional health care.

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Central Lakes College students who are part of The Green Bandana Project will carry these mental health resource cards to hand out to those seeking assistance. The cards were provided by the CLC Counseling Department with contacts for getting help and support. Submitted photo
Central Lakes College students who are part of The Green Bandana Project will carry these mental health resource cards to hand out to those seeking assistance. The cards were provided by the CLC Counseling Department with contacts for getting help and support. Submitted photo

“We haven't had a great turnout of people taking the (The Green Bandana Project) pledge, but I’m expecting that to only get better next year … once we’re back on campus,” Karsnia said of the pledge wearers of the bandana make to assist those with mental health concerns.

Karsnia first heard about The Green Bandana Project from another CLC staff member whose daughter went to another college. In March, officials from The Green Bandana Project started simply referring to the mental health awareness campaign as “The Bandana Project.”

“I thought, ‘Well, what a great tangible thing!’” Karsnia said. “And college students like to get things for free, so there’s an incentive.”

Students who pledge to become a member of The Green Bandana Project by tying lime-green bandanas to their backpacks will have on them campus-specific and national mental health and suicide prevention information along with resource cards to hand out that include contact information.

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“The reason why I decided to roll it out — or try to at least get it going this year with the video — was because people were wearing bandanas to cover their face for COVID,” Karsnia said.

Karsnia said the rigors of being a college student — deadlines, assignments, working with other students, teachers and staff, not to mention the majority of CLC’s students have jobs or are parents — all those factors can affect one’s mental health.

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A key, she said, will be student involvement in the project.

“My plan is — in the fall when, hopefully, students are back on campus — to seek students’ help and have them do tabling events, and then ask students that would want to participate not only to take the pledge but also to help kind of keep the movement going,” Karsnia said.

The Green Bandana Project has since spread to over 40 other universities, high schools, and community groups across the United States since its inception at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The idea is simple and straightforward — getting help for those who seek it.

“They are not trained counselors,” Karsnia said of those with bandanas. “Someone can approach them and say, ‘I struggle with mental health,’ and that person with the bandana can offer support and say, ‘Here is where you can get some help.’”

The Green Bandana Project pledge

In taking this bandana and tying it to my backpack, I pledge:

  • I will listen if you need to talk to someone.

  • I will talk to someone if I need to be heard.

  • I will help you find someone to talk to when you need more support.

  • I will find someone to talk to when I need more support.

  • I will be accepting.

  • I will be honest.

  • I will see a person in need of support and not just their challenges.

With this pledge, I am declaring support for those dealing with challenges to their mental and emotional well-being.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL.