At the beginning of January I came across the I Will Listen campaign through a post on an online newspaper. I contacted Drew Train, the Business Director of NAMI, to learn more about the campaign. I created a blog in order to increase awareness of the campaign and posted about it on social media channels. Immediately, the post spread within the Emory community and I was contacted by various organizations on campus to formally co-sponsor the I Will Listen campaign. I collaborated with Emory Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), Active Minds, the Emory Health Student Initiative (EMHI), Flourish Emory, Second Nature and Be Positive Emory to create what became known as the “I Will Listen week” on the Emory campus .
Prior to the I Will Listen week, I contacted various organizations to continue to spread the word about the campaign. I had an overwhelmingly positive response as the organizations posted about the campaign on their conference forums, social media pages, and weekly newsletters. I was even invited to speak at organization meetings. Additionally, I contacted the campus radio station (WMRE) and spoke on radio shows. The Emory Wheel, the campus newspaper, became interested in the campaign as well, and I was asked to write an article around the negative stigma around mental illness.
In mid-April, the I Will Listen week took place. Students were invited to participate in school events every day of the week. On Monday, world-known sociologist, Dr. Corey Keyes gave a lecture on the current state of Mental Illness. He included different cultural perspectives and studies and even spoke about his personal story. On Tuesday, students had the opportunity to take part in a suicide prevention training workshop. Students learned how to reach out to peers, friends and family members. On Wednesday, an I Will Listen challenge was created in which students sent in Facebook posts, Tweets, Youtube videos, and Instagram pictures pledging to “listen”. The most creative post won a big prize, and every single person that sent in a post and who had contacted either the collaborating organizations, or me, received a small prize. On Thursday, a “Speak Out on Mental Health” took place. People were invited to talk about their personal stories on Mental Illness. On Friday we held A Day Without Headphones. Students joined me at the Student Center on Campus, Dobbs University Center (DUC), and pledged to listen and bring awareness by submitting posts, wearing stickers, buttons and shirt pledging to listen and not wearing headphones. Students really reached out as we had 100+ students pledging to listen, high attendance rates at events and active responses as students engaged in discussion, unable stop asking questions at events and even contacting faculty members after the events.
I had an extremely supportive and proactive response from the Emory community. Not only did students actively participate in the events in the week, and pledge(ed) to listen, but everyone really made an effort to help their peers. I am still being contacted by students about collaborating on the I Will Listen campaign, about documentaries and theses they are working on, about recent news they have heard and lectures they have engaged in around mental illness.
In addition, because of the success of this campaign at Emory, I have been contacted by friends in other campuses in the United States and in Mexico to start the I Will Listen campaign in their campuses.
I can confidently say that it was a really successful campaign and that I genuinely believe that it has, and continues to, make a change as people pledge to listen and become a more supportive and caring community that will help people with mental illness speak out.
– Eva Kassel