The Yellow Tulip Project Smashes Mental Health Stigma in the Age of Coronavirus

Published on May 29, 2020

The rise in mental health illness in the U.S. is staggering. With one in five American adults experiencing mental illness, Covid-19 has only exasperated the crisis. Federal hotline emotional distress calls this April saw a 1000 percent spike compared with the same time last year.

Americans have been grappling with a rise in mental health illness for several years now. 

According to the National Association on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five American adults experienced mental health illness in 2018 while 16.5 percent of youth ages 6-17 experienced a mental health disorder in 2016.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in Americans between the ages of 10-34 and was the tenth leading cause of death nationally in 2017, claiming over 47,000 lives. Between the years 1999 to 2017, there’s been a 33 percent increase in the suicide rate. 

However, during these past 20 years, other countries including Russia, China, Japan, and most of Western Europe have seen their rates in suicide decline. Begging the question, what is America not doing to combat the spread of mental health illness?

Multiple reports have suggested that some causes for this rise in mental health illness can be attributed to financial insecurity, workplace stress, as well as a stigma surrounding mental health, especially in schools.

During these past months of Covid-19 lockdown, the prevalence of mental health illness has only increased. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey reports that 19 percent of respondents have said the Coronavirus crisis has had a “major impact” on their mental health. 

As mental illness rates increase, it is crucial to address this growing concern nationally by having the resources, systems, and willingness of community members to combat this spread.

The Yellow Tulip Project (YTP) is a youth-based nonprofit organization focused on smashing the stigma surrounding mental health illness. Founder, Julia Hansen, explains the catalyst for launching the Yellow Tulip Project.

Smashing The Stigma!

Julia Hansen, Founder of The Yellow Tulip Project

“During my sophomore year of high school, I lost two of my best friends to suicide, while struggling immensely with my own depression, self-harm, and suicidal ideations. It took the death of my first best friend for me to reach out and get the help I needed and deserved. Amongst immense grief and sadness, I was able to find hope and beauty in the world and I wanted to spread this message far and wide. Mental illness is a silent epidemic that no one really wants to talk about, but everyone should. Now just four years later, YTP is a youth-driven nonprofit aimed at smashing the stigma surrounding mental illness, bringing hope into people’s lives, reminding them they are not alone and that asking for help is a strength, not a weakness.”

Since the founding of the YTP, an army of youth ambassadors has worked tirelessly to reach new communities with a growing group of 324 teen Ambassadors from 34 states and four countries, Barbados, Japan, Vietnam, and St. Lucia. By helping to smash the stigma surrounding mental health.

Some YTP projects include:

Planting of Hope Gardens across communities in the Fall and welcoming their arrival in the Spring. These events bring community members together across age groups to spark the conversation of mental health and bring awareness to the importance of the crisis.

Growing networks of YTP Ambassadors nationwide are bringing the message of the organization to their schools and communities. YTP has found this to be the best way to empower youth and help spread the important message of smashing the mental health stigma.

I Am More: Facing Stigma photo series, featuring countless portraits of individuals from all walks of life who are dealing with mental illness themselves or have been impacted by a friend or family member’s suffering. The exhibit serves to shed light and challenge the assumptions we have on what mental illness looks like.

YTP Executive Director, Suzanne Fox (Julia’s mother) says, “I am humbled and inspired every day by the young people who are driving this movement. They are ready to talk about that elephant in the room and remind each other that it is okay to not be okay, and that there is help and hope out there and suicide should never be an option. Julia was the voice that started a dynamic and engaged youth momentum that has spread across the U.S. and beyond.”

Participants in YTP events have overwhelmingly reported feeling less alone, more supported, and increasingly connected to their communities. YTP surveys have proved that over 90 percent of respondents felt that participating in a YTP event broadened their perception of mental illness, and over 85 percent said it reduced the stigma around mental illness.

Mental Wellness in the Era of COVID-19

The Yellow Tulip Project has been adapting its platform, message, and outreach strategies during these unusual times to remind everyone that friends, family, and community members are facing similar issues. Some resources and initiatives YTP have and continues to provide include:

In April, YTP organized the #WhatGrowsMyHope campaign to remind people that although we are physically isolated, we stand in social solidarity and are here for each other as we journey through these difficult times. 

On May 29th, the Greater Bangor, Maine hosted a Virtual Hope Day to bring the community together to remind them that hope is there and that they are all in this together.

On May 31st, YTP hosted a virtual Hope Day, similar to Bangor’s event, while including speakers, musicians, and poets from Maine and across the country to join in social solidarity and stay hopeful during this pandemic.

As the Coronavirus crisis has devastated our physical health, it is important to remember the dangerous impacts the pandemic, lockdown, and ensuing financial crisis can have on mental health. During these challenging times, YTP continues to advance its message and provide more support to the growing number of those facing mental illness or coping with growing levels of stress and anxiety. 

Artin is a Champlain College graduate with a degree in Management and Innovation. He is focused on examining and writing on smart cities, sociocultural, political, and economic topics.

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