Guest blogger Karoline Dreher graduated from the Manship School of Mass Communication in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and minors in graphic design and German. She is currently an editorial assistant at the U.S. Geological Survey Science Publishing Network in Lafayette, La., as well as a freelance graphic designer. In her free time, she enjoys music festivals, reading, and running with her rescue dog, Jax. For more information, please contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with her on LinkedIn.
The curriculum for public relations seniors at LSU includes a service-learning capstone course in which students form groups of PR teams that work directly with nonprofit organizations in the area. My team chose the Mental Health Association for Greater Baton Rouge (MHA).
Initially, we were uncertain about our choice; mental health is a delicate and often misunderstood topic. How could we, mere college students, really make a difference? Would it be possible to make any sort of impact in such a short time?
The MHA staff was particularly interested in raising awareness for their services, as well as raising awareness of mental illness in general. We began with assessing public perception of mental illness.
Fear plays a significant role in the stigma of mental illness. The fields of psychology and psychiatry are still very much growing, and we do not have absolute knowledge about many disorders. This uncertainty often leads the public to steer clear of anything related to mental illness. “Psycho,” “bipolar” and “OCD” just scratch the surface of misused terms in common conversation.
Our campaign focused on the statistic that “one in four adults experiences mental illness in a given year”; it was a surprising statistic that we hoped would attract public interest and create awareness about mental health care.
Our PR team was encouraged to speak with MHA clients directly, and we learned of their struggles with addiction, schizophrenia, and other mental and behavioral disorders. A few clients offered detailed accounts of their personal struggles and urged us to share their stories via writings and videos to help the community understand what a life with mental illness entails. Despite a myriad of life accounts, one element stood true throughout our discussions: each of these clients was a human being who longed to be loved and understood.
Inspired by their bravery, I decided to share my own story of mental illness diagnosis through an opinion piece in the LSU Daily Reveille. After my article was published, several students and non-students came to me with thanks for sharing and encouraging them to seek help or become more accepting of their diagnosis.
When the semester started, I would never have guessed that a public relations service-learning course would have such an effect on my life. The experience I had working with MHA lit a fire within me to advocate for people living with mental illness. Speaking with MHA clients gave me the courage to accept my own disorder as nothing more than a facet of who I am and to use my story to encourage others to care for themselves and their loved ones.
Service-learning reminds us that there is always more to life than our own needs. Our campaign may not have taken the world by storm, but it allowed us to give people a voice and share their story.
As Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”