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Dan’s Bandana Project generates awareness of student depression

December 5, 2014

“Dan’s Bandana Project” was started to bring awareness of depression and anxiety in college students, and encourage students to talk about depression and anxiety with each other, and get help if needed.

Betsy Gerbec, a biology lecturer at UW-River Falls, started this project with her teaching assistant Lyndsay Hage last spring. Gerbec’s son, Dan Gerbec, died by suicide on Sept. 27, 2012. Dan had been suffering from depression while attending UW-Eau Claire.

Gerbec and Hage had a booth at the “Health Fair” that took place in last spring. Students were given a white bandana to tie onto their backpacks and a pledge card.

After signing their name on a banner, the students promised to be aware of depression and anxiety, and to talk to each other.

Students were able to talk about their problems when they visited the booth. Hage said that many students found it a safe place, and were able to connect with each other, and “found it a relief, that [they] can speak to someone, and that [they’re] not alone.”

A pledge card was written by Hage, who is now a senior at UWRF. That pledge card has a photo of Dan, and a paragraph explaining what the project is. The backside of the card is the pledge itself.

The pledge states that students who tie a white bandana to their backpacks will listen to anyone who needs to talk, and that they will talk with “someone if they need to be listened to.”

It also states that students will find a counselor if they need help, and support anyone who is suffering from depression or anxiety.

Gerbec wants the students to talk about depression and anxiety and not hide it, because “the more you hide, it just keeps going.”

Gerbec explains that people find it embarrassing to talk about depression, anxiety and suicide. She called it a “stupid stigma” and wants students to not find it embarrassing to talk about it, because it’s a serious issue.

There are different ways that students can help themselves. Gerbec suggests that students talk to each other, or go to a counselor. If the depression or anxiety is harming them academically while going to college, Gerbec suggests that some students might want to take a medical leave for a semester to get better.

Hage also suffered from depression and anxiety, and even had academic probation due to “sleeping all the time, and not getting up to get to class.”

She battled her depression by getting more exercise and “started talking about it more.” Hage herself said that she was able to get her GPA up again, but had to retake some classes. She walks around campus with a white bandana tied onto her backpack.

According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, the second leading cause of death on college campuses is suicide.

The American College Health Association found in 2011 in its “National College Health Assessment” at 44 colleges in the U.S. that 60 percent of students “felt very sad,” and 30 percent of the students “felt so depressed that it was hard to function” at least once in a calendar year.