May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and the University of New Hampshire, along with the Strafford County Public Health Network are making sure students are aware of all available resources to maintain and improve their mental health. College students can be particularly vulnerable to a mental health crisis, as they are working through a period of volatile changes and constant shifts in a short amount of time. Classes, busy social lives and jobs can leave little time for students to maintain their mental health. On top of that, the stigma associated with being diagnosed and treating mental health conditions can leave young adults afraid to seek help.  Nelson Thomas, a sophomore football player at UNH wants his fellow students to know that “there is no shame in asking for help.” Thomas, who was initially hesitant to approach his own mental health problems due to the common judgement associated with the process, envisions a culture which treats mental health and physical health as equal. “Having the ability to seek help for your mental and emotional highs and lows is just as important as your ACL. It’s crucial.”

Motivated by his vision, Thomas partnered with Project375, a mental health advocacy group, to create the Bench Out the Stigma event at UNH which raised money and awareness for an issue affecting many university students. The event, which took place at the UNH gym, brought physical and mental fitness onto a level platform where attendants learned how they can fight against the stigma of mental health and get a great workout at the same time. More than fifty people attended the event, which Thomas hopes will become an annual fundraiser for Project375 at the University.

Mental Health Awareness Month may end on June first, but the resources available to students and residents of Strafford County are evergreen. Ashley Ciampa, the Young Adult Prevention Coordinator for the Strafford County Public Health Network, has worked to spread awareness of these programs and resources. Nelson Thomas is one of many community partners with whom Ciampa plans on creating a network which will work cohesively to reach out to young adults and provide the tools which will prevent people suffering from a mental health crisis or condition from missing available assistance. “Stigma, in particular, can prevent those at risk from getting the help they need. Stigma reinforces isolating behaviors which go hand in hand with a mental health crisis.” Ciampa hopes to promote open dialogue about mental health utilizing a variety of avenues. “A lot of what we do throughout the year is online.” Ciampa added, noting the social media presence the Public Health Network has built. “We have an Instagram (Strafford_County_Health) and a Facebook (@StraffordPHN) which we use to promote events, share information and connect with people.” Students and community members like Nelson are often the best connection between an objective organization and the people they are trying to reach out to. “Having open platforms of communication for all people through social media can empower anyone to spread their story and encourage others to seek help.”

To learn more about the mental health resources available to students at UNH, visit https://www.unh.edu/health/services/mental-health.

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