As the world tries to navigate through the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, an online effort by the seniors in the Loras College Breitbach Catholic Thinkers & Leaders program is proving to be particularly prescient.
As part of their final year in the Breitbach program, seniors are tasked with creating a project that allows them to share their talents with the world. This year’s class focused on mental health.
“Each of us had been impacted by mental health in one way or another; it was something that we could each connect to,” Erin Cain (’20), a Breitbach scholar, recalled. “We decided that we want to be a part in ending the stigma around mental health. We wanted everyone to know that they aren’t alone and won’t ever be alone in their mental health journey—no matter what that may look like. So, the Not Alone campaign was born.”
The Not Alone campaign is focused on sharing messages of hope and support through Intagram and Facebook to encourage others to share their experiences while reminding them that mental health impacts everyone even if we can’t see it.
“We all agreed that as we learned more and more about each other over our four years together, the more we realized how we had all dealt with several highs and lows in our mental health journeys,” Ben Friedman (’20) said. “The thing was, we all knew what each other was involved with on campus, but very few of us knew about the interior struggles each of us had dealt with or was dealing with. In other words, we had felt alone in our own mental health battles, understandably comparing ourselves to each other, and thinking everyone else seemed to be living perfect lives, when in reality, this was never the case.
“The question became, ‘How can we let people know that we’re not alone in our mental health, and more than that, that there might be people that you know by name or even call your friend that are struggling with the very same things you are’ We decided that we had the knowledge and ability to create a social media campaign in order to reach a widespread audience.”
An invitation was sent out across campus in late fall for members of the Loras community to share their thoughts and experiences with mental health issues. The students were able to gather written and video testimonials and compile a catalog of experiences that they could share on newly created Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/lc_not_alone/) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/LCNotAlone/) pages.
In light of the pandemic that has spawned social distancing and forced us to stay physically separated, the Not Alone campaign seems more apt than ever.
“More than ever we believe that our campaign is needed in our world. We’ve learned that God’s timing is so powerful and even more beautiful than we could have ever imagined. Although we sit hundreds of miles apart from each other now, we couldn’t be more grateful for the work we put in to this campaign and the impact it has made so far,” Cain said.
Some of the Breitbach seniors took the time to reflect their experiences with the Not Alone project and what it has meant to them.
Grace Shockman (’20):
“Not Alone was a general mental health campaign on behalf of our Senior Breitbach class and although we had high hopes for how it might impact our audience, we never expected how much this campaign would speak to the experience of our community. I shared some of my own experiences in a testimony that was shared out a couple of weeks into stay-at-home orders. Wading back into the familiar and sometimes really challenging waters of being at home I felt a lot of my mental health concerns resurfacing. After my photo was posted, I was surprised how quickly new people were reaching out to me to thank me for sharing, asking for someone to listen, for accountability in taking care of themselves at home, and just giving me love. Honest vulnerability, while also providing a number of options for outreach, really does help support those who are struggling in various ways with their mental health. Knowing we are not alone, particularly in a world that feels very distanced right now, is more important than ever.”
Jacob Jansen (’20):
“Being a part of the Not Alone campaign has been really special. When we created it, we had no idea the majority of second semester would be spent at our homes trying to live out the Loras community online. During this tough time for everyone, I can’t think of a more appropriate and meaningful project than to do a social media mental health campaign. The holy spirit definitely guided us in this direction.”
Jenna Roskopf (’20):
“While we were planning our project, we wanted to address a specific need within the Loras community. At the time, I was unsure if this mental health campaign would be something that people would actually utilize. However, we went with our gut and trusted that this would be a way for people to recognize that they are not alone in their struggles with mental health. As we launched the campaign, I couldn’t believe the number of engagements we were having on Facebook. Posts were getting thousands of hits and were being widely shared. As this COVID outbreak started to hit, I think the #NotAlone campaign became even more impactful. It became a way to connect with the Loras community even from a distance, and many people have reached out to us that they have been appreciative of the movement during this isolating time. So to be honest, this campaign has been surprisingly way more successful and impactful than I think any of us could have imagined. I feel so thankful for all who were vulnerable enough to have shared their stories because they are the ones who really have sparked this movement.”
Sarah Krieger (’20):
“Once we decided that we wanted to talk about mental health, we had many long discussions about how we wanted to execute it. We picked a social media campaign as we believed we could reach the greatest amount of people on this platform, specifically Loras college students. We really came together as a Breitbach cohort in order to bring this project to life, and it would not have been a success without each and every member is our Breitbach group. We all put so much joy and love into this project, and I am so honored I got to be a part of it!”
Erin Cain (’20):
“This campaign was a great reflection on my own mental health journey, specifically at Loras. I came into college being terrified. Honestly, I didn’t really think I was going to make it past Launch. Even though I was feeling a lot of internal pain, the Loras community helped me jump over those hurdles and welcomed me the moment I stepped onto campus. Although my brain kept telling me I was alone, my heart reminded me that the people around me loved me for who I was and I wasn’t alone. It can be hard your first year at college to open up about those deep feelings, especially when you’re feeling so many mixed emotions those first few days, but this campaign was set up to tell us otherwise. The Not Alone campaign was designed to remind us all that we are not alone, no matter what. It’s okay to not be okay. We may be surrounded by hundreds of people and feel completely isolated, but you’re not alone. People in that crowd are feeling those same things, and it takes just one voice that speaks out to remind others, comfort others, and empathize with them knowing that they are not alone.”
Ben Friedman (’20):
“The impact has been amazing, both from a wide perspective and even for me personally. For instance, through the project, when I learned that one of my friends struggles greatly with social anxiety, it was an eye-opening experience–this is a friend who is a leader and role model on campus in so many ways, and one of the most social people I know. He shared his story, knowing that if more people knew that he had this anxiety, it might encourage them to reach out, do whatever they can to not let their anxiety hold them back, and feel like they don’t have to be perfect in any way. Knowing we’re not alone in our battles makes an incredible difference. We can share our stories, rely on one another, and learn how to manage our battles together in order to live the lives we would like to live.”