Student Voice of Mental Health Award Winner Audrey Wang on Using Technology to Foster Empathy and Inclusivity
Audrey Wang is no stranger to the ups and downs of social media. As a teen coder, she knows social media can be an outlet ...
By Lauren Patetta
The Bissinger Room at Stevens Institute had never seen so much color. Strings of neon stars hung from the walls, bright streamers swayed from the ceiling, and black lights reflected off the painted faces of students, who showed up dressed in equally radiant shirts for Neon Nights—the kickoff event for a new, student-led fundraising series by The Jed Foundation (JED). Neon Nights engages students in a fun and innovative way to raise awareness and funds for JED’s critical work in mental health. Each event begins with a student-led ceremony featuring personal stories, flows into a brightly-colored parade through campus, and ends in a celebratory glow dance party.
“This is a really important topic, especially to talk about on college campuses, where a lot of people are going to be feeling stress and damage to their mental health and struggling to deal with it while they’re away from home for the first time or dealing with hard classes,” said electrical engineering student and student volunteer Ha-mil Hutty. “This is a tech school. A lot of classes are very hard. A lot of majors are very hard. So having focus on mental health and being able to help other people is always good.”
“Mental health, though not really a controversial topic, is definitely a rising topic that’s finally getting the attention it deserves,” added student volunteer Emanuel Diaz. “Now’s the time to give it support and keep the momentum going.”
As the first event, students at Stevens Institute set a high bar, raising $13,000 for youth mental health and suicide prevention. The energy in the room was brightened by the 70 students in attendance, all of whom had a clear passion for the cause, exhibiting enthusiasm about improving their own mental wellness and supporting their peers.
The night began with speeches from student leaders Sydney Linford and Drew Carranti, who shared powerful stories about their own challenges with mental health through the transition to college and COVID-19 pandemic to the crowd.
“I was constantly stressed about maintaining my grades, and living up to society’s, my parents’ and my own expectations,” said Carranti. “My depression made it difficult to be happy, even in life’s best moments.” He also urged his classmates to reach out for help whenever they need it. “Crisis resources and therapy can be a lifesaver in your darkest moments. It’s so much harder to cope–and heal–alone.”
“We all live and study in an incredibly fast-paced and high-stress environment, and I think we all agree that we’ll take all the help we can get,” said Linford in her opening speech. “I want every student at every school in the nation to get the mental health services they deserve, and that’s why I’m so proud to be a part of Neon Nights with all of you.”
After the stories, students marched through parts of the campus lit up green to the final event space, a dance floor illuminated by blacklights and filled with neon balloons, beach balls, and streamers.
As much fun as the students had, many shared that they were there for deeply personal and important reasons.
Justin Baumann was there to show support to those in his fraternity who are struggling. “Though I haven’t been diagnosed with—or struggle with—anxiety or depression, a lot of our brothers, and a lot of people all their lives, suffer,” he said.
Jenna Giesecke, a rising junior at Stevens, helped organize the event to speak openly about her own experiences with mental health, particularly at the height of the pandemic. All the hours she spent following the rising number of COVID-19 cases on her phone added stress to her daily life and played a part in the development of a tic disorder. Since then, she’s made great strides in improving her mental health and wants to find ways to help her other students find that same peace.
“Rates of anxiety and suicide are higher than they’ve been before, especially after the pandemic threw everybody off,” said Giesecke. In fact, 30% of college students have experienced a mental, emotional, or behavioral health issue in the past year. “Today’s world is stressful, so it’s just really easy to fall into a hole. I think bringing awareness to mental health is something that’s important and needed.”
Student volunteer Jenna Giesecke reflects on how to help a friend who’s struggling.
Neon Nights will soon be rolling out on campuses across the United States. The next event will be held on April 13 at the University of Tampa. Learn more, and show your support, here.
If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7.
You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.
If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.