UNO students combat the stigma of mental illness through campaign

Photo Courtesy of R U OK?

Amy Nielsen

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert proclaimed March 15, 2017 as College Mental Health Day.

The proclamation honors the University of Nebraska at Omaha student campaign “R U OK? It only takes 3 words,” in partnership with the Campaign to Change Direction. The Woodmen Tower will be lit in orange, the campaign’s signature color.

One in four college students suffer from a mental health illness and almost 73 percent of those experience a mental health crisis on campus, according to the National Institute on Mental Illness (NAMI).

The campaign, designed to help students find the resources they need, is conducted by a team of public relations students as part of the Public Relations Student Society of America National Bateman Case Study Competition.

A key aspect of the campaign shows people how to recognize the five signs of emotional suffering: personality change, agitation, withdrawal, poor self-care and hopelessness, according to the Campaign to Change Direction. Once able to recognize the signs, the second part is to know where to turn for help.

The team works to spread awareness of available resources on campus, a move supported by Marcia Adler, director of UNO Health Services.

One resource that many students, faculty and staff may not know exists is that counseling is embedded within the campus health center.

“The psychologist or psychiatrist can go back and forth with the family doctor,” Adler said. “The problem is many students will graduate and not even know this was available.”

Students who do know about available resources are often worried about the stigma associated with receiving treatment, said Jennifer Alquicira, president of the UNO NAMI chapter.

“Fear of going to seek help leads to a breaking point,” Alquicira said. “There should be no shame
or fear in addressing mental health.”

The campaign slogan, “R U OK? It only takes 3 words,” drew inspiration from Aileen Brady,
executive vice president and chief executive officer of Community Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to providing community resources for mental health.

“Are you OK? Those three words mean a lot,” Brady said. “It opens up a dialogue or it lets that person know that someone noticed them or someone is caring.”

The team is comprised of students from the School of Communication: Zach Dinslage, junior; Kerrigan Flynn, junior; Ayu Haramura, senior, Bryonna Johnson, senior; and Amy Nielsen, junior.

The team will distribute materials at information tables located around campus throughout the March 15 offering free pins and fact cards that identify the five signs of emotional suffering and campus resources. Information on events will be posted on UNO PRSSA’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

For more information, visit or follow UNO PRSSA on Facebook and Twitter or contact Amy Nielsen, media relations coordinator at 402-995-9725 or