New campus groups to raise awareness about mental health

Monday, October 12, 2015 - 6:57pm

A recent addition to the University community, the national organization “umttr,” is dedicated to providing the necessary resources to promote good mental health among students. Short for “you matter,” the group specifically raises awareness about bullying, depression and suicide.   

After organizing and planning for several years, the club became official last month.  

High school student Erik Roberts founded the national organization umttr in Montgomery County, Md. following the suicide of his close friend and fellow athlete, Evan Rosenstock. The University is the first college campus to host a umttr chapter.

LSA senior Allison Rosenstock, Evan Rosenstock’s sister, along with LSA sophomore Jane Smith, worked to bring the organization to campus after meeting on the Michigan Equestrian Team last year. Since both have had personal experiences with family members suffering from mental health issues, they hope to combat the stigma associated with mental illness through the new student organization.

“I think it is crucial that umttr started as an organization by young adults, for young adults,” Rosenstock said in an e-mail to The Michigan Daily. “We really strive to implement peer-led programs that have proved more effective in people ages 10-24.”

Umttr is partnered with several other organizations, including the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Campaign to Change Direction, a nonprofit campaign aiming to raise awareness about mental health issues.

The umttr website outlines five signs of emotional suffering, including withdrawal, agitation, hopelessness, decline in personal care and change in personality. Rosenstock ultimately hopes to implement the Campaign to Change Direction into the University’s curriculum, perhaps as a requirement class for incoming freshmen, similar to the AlcoholEdu program.

“I hope that we can implement a similar program where students are required to learn the five signs of mental suffering that the Campaign to Change Direction promotes,” Rosenstock said.

In an e-mail to the Daily, Smith said she believes umttr will provide a place for students who need a community of individuals who understand the hardships of handling mental health issues.

“I hope to create a safe place for students to talk about their personal struggles with mental health-related issues,” Smith said. “I want to create a group of friends that cares about what each person is going through and can relate. My goal for this is not to become a therapy session, but rather a close-knit community.”

Smith credits the Michigan Equestrian Team community with helping her heal from tragedy in her family related to suicide. She hopes umttr can be a supportive community for anyone in a similar situation.

Both Rosenstock and Smith said similar University organizations, such as Active Minds, Healthy Minds, and the Wolverine Support Network, among others, have helped establish umttr on campus. However, the main difference between the organizations already on campus and umttr is umttr’s additional interest in helping student athletes.

“The athletic portion of the organization is crucial because both Allison and I agree that athletics is valuable in providing a healthy body and mind while bringing people together,” Smith said.

At the heart of umttr is a three-on-three basketball tournament to commemorate Evan, who played basketball in high school. Smith and Rosenstock hope this will change the way athletic programs view mental health issues.

“Because my brother, Evan, was an avid basketball player, besides the fact that exercise is a great outlet for mental health issues, I see the athletic portion as remembering my brother as an athlete,” Rosenstock said.

Since umttr at the University was approved in late September, the group was unable to be at Festifall and therefore started the year with a small following. However, the leaders of umttr on campus were able to attend the So Cool, So Just social justice student organization fair in the Diag last month.

On Oct. 24, umttr will attend the Defeat Depression Dash, an annual 5K in honor of University student Garrick Roemer, who was a member of the University’s track team and lost his life to suicide in 2014.