St. Olaf College | News

Greater Than Campaign raises awareness about mental health

The group of St. Olaf College students who launched the Greater Than Campaign includes (back row, from left) Natasha Ndahiro ’19, Maren Weaver ’18, Julie Johnson ’19, Brandon Cash ’16, Mary Haasl ’16, (front row, from left) Savannah Strang ’16, Abbie Haug ’19, and Kelsey Henquinet ’16. The campaign aims to educate the campus community about mental health resources and change the culture and stigma surrounding mental health.

Kelsey Henquinet ’16 knows that St. Olaf College students sometimes wonder where they can find help managing stress, depression, and other mental health challenges. Yet she also knows that these same students have access to a number of mental health resources at the college.

That disconnect between the resources available and the students who need them prompted Henquinet and 20 other St. Olaf students to launch the Greater Than Campaign.

The campaign, which has been gaining momentum on social media since last fall, aims to educate fellow St. Olaf students about mental health resources on campus and change the culture and stigma surrounding mental health.

“We wanted a campaign that would not only reevaluate St. Olaf’s approach to an issue, but also help the larger community be better informed and prepared on such an important topic,” Henquinet says.

Mary Haasl ’16, Julie Johnson ’19, and Abigale Haug ’19 enthusiastically joined Henquinet in the Greater Than Campaign. Johnson, a psychology and exercise science double major, proposed naming the campaign “Greater Than” and using the mathematical sign “>” for the logo. “People can be ‘greater than’ stress, mental illness, and the stigma surrounding mental illness,” she says.

On-campus resources
About 20 percent of St. Olaf students report feeling depressed or anxious in a given year. At St. Olaf, students can receive formal therapy from professional counselors and psychologists for no additional cost at Boe House, St. Olaf’s counseling center. Students can also reach out to the college pastors, class deans, and academic advisors for help and support in managing stress. In the residence halls, junior counselors and resident assistants are also trained to help students. The Greater Than Campaign works to increase student awareness of these resources.

The campaign’s logo uses the mathematical sign for “greater than” because, as Julie Johnson ’19 notes, people are “greater than stress, mental illness, and the stigma surrounding mental illness.”

“Students at St. Olaf actually have greater access to mental health care on campus than the local community does,” Vice President for Student Life Greg Kneser says. “Yet we know we can do better.”

Another goal of the Greater Than Campaign is to create a community in which students feel safe talking about mental health and know how to help their friends dealing with mental illness.

“Students have been overwhelmingly supportive of this initiative,” Henquinet says. “They want to know how they can become part of the solution.”

St. Olaf faculty and staff have also responded positively to the student initiative. “One of the joint goals of Student Life and Greater Than is to raise the capacity of the campus to help others deal with stress, anxiety, anger, sadness, and other aspects of mental health early on,” Kneser says. “We will be designing training programs on how to step in and help with mental health that will be offered to all members of the St. Olaf community.”

Making an impact
Students have put a lot of work into the Greater Than Campaign and have already begun to see changes. “The thing I am the most proud of is the Mental Health Summit we held earlier this semester,” says Haug, noting that 20-30 college administrators attended.

At the summit, a Mental Health Task Force comprised of faculty, students, and staff from the Dean’s Office, the Pastors’ Office, Boe House, the Piper Center for Vocation and Career and the Academic Support Center was formed. The Task Force meets weekly to discuss and implement ways that St. Olaf can better address mental health, including adding another counselor at Boe House and making a discussion of mental health part of the Week One program for incoming first-year students.

Changes are also evident in campus culture. “As a result of the campaign, I have noticed that many students have felt more comfortable voicing their personal passion or interest in mental health,” Johnson says. “Friends of mine have been less hesitant to talk to me about issues they have had with mental health.”

Students have also worked to ensure that both the Mental Health Task Force and Greater Than Campaign become a permanent part of St. Olaf’s fabric. “We have set a structure in place to elect leadership for next year, so these discussions and task force continue,” Haasl says.

“Obviously, we still have a long way to go,” says Johnson. “However, the momentum of the Greater Than Campaign is slowly making a difference, and I am ecstatic to see what we can do as we move forward.”