One of two finalists for the Student Voice of Mental Health Award (SVMHA), Julia Hansen is a rising senior at Occidental College majoring in Urban and Environmental Policy and minoring in Music. She’s particularly interested in studying the role gardening and interactions with nature have on mental wellness, and how to make these opportunities more accessible to all. She founded The Yellow Tulip Project (YTP), a youth-driven nonprofit, which in five short years has 400+ YTP ambassadors across the country. The organization is dedicated to bringing communities together to normalize the conversations around mental health and to remind people of the hope and beauty in the world through outreach and advocacy.
We sat down with Julia recently to learn more about her and her work in mental health.
Q: Congratulations on being selected as a finalist for the Student Voice of Mental Health Award! What inspired you to work on The Yellow Tulip Project?
A: For as a long as I can remember, I have struggled with various mental health challenges, living silently with them and not receiving the help or care I desperately needed due to stigma. During my sophomore year of high school, my two closest friends took their lives within a six month period, and I knew then I had to rip the stigma of shame away in order to get the care that I needed and to help others receive the care they need. Amidst immense pain, grief, and darkness, I was able to find joy and beauty. I wanted to share this far and wide with others so they too could know that no matter how dark, painful, and ugly the world can be, hope will continue to bloom. Why the name “Yellow Tulip Project”? Yellow was one of my friend’s favorite colors and the tulip was my other friend’s favorite flower; the yellow tulip is also a flower that represents hope.
Q: What has been your greatest challenge with The Yellow Tulip Project and with working in the mental health space in general?
A: Jumping between the world of being a student and the world of being a nonprofit leader was challenging. For instance, in high school I’d leave mid-day to go speak at a mental health conference and open up about my story, and then rush back to make it in time for my fourth period chemistry class. It was emotionally taxing at times, but I’ve learned the importance of carving out time before and after I share my story in order for me to reground myself. I talk about how it is okay to prioritize your own mental well-being and that asking for help is a sign of strength, not of weakness, and it’s crucial for me to exemplify these ideas.
Q: What has been the most rewarding part about working on The Yellow Tulip Project?
A: The most rewarding part about this work is knowing we have helped people see that they are not alone and that it is okay to not be okay. I wish beyond words that my two best friends could have known that things could and would get better, and how loved they were, but they couldn’t, so it is my personal mission to help other young people know that they matter and that healing is possible. I have had the honor of meeting and working alongside truly incredible young people who amaze and inspire me daily.
Q: What words of advice do you have for other student leaders trying to change the way we approach mental health?
A: Take care of YOUR mental health first before lending a hand to others. It’s kind of like the Oxygen Mask Rule: place the oxygen mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others. Tending to our minds and well-being helps prevent burnout and keeps our health in a state of equilibrium, making it easier and more exciting to continue with our important work.
Q: As a full-time student and nonprofit founder, you probably have a lot on your plate. What self-care strategies and tips do you use to manage your own emotional health?
A: I love this question because I am all about self care! Getting out and taking runs really helps my mind feel better because it releases endorphins and serotonin into my body. Having a plant in my home or room helps improve my mental health and self-esteem by reminding me to care for myself with the same care, attention, and love I give my plants to grow healthy and strong. Having a colorful journal with me offers a private outlet to release my day’s thoughts, wonders, and experiences, and helps remind me of the friend I am to myself. Music is also a huge part of my self-care palette. Singing and playing bass always helps me feel more grounded, calm, and present.
Q: What is something that people would be surprised to know about you?
A: I am a dedicated bass player and vocalist. I have found that female bassists are rather uncommon, and I feel unbelievably grateful for my instrument and my ability to escape into the deep rhythmic sounds this four-stringed instrument creates.
JED’s Student Voice of Mental Health Award is an annual award honoring an undergraduate college student who is doing outstanding work on their campus to raise awareness for mental health issues, reduce prejudice around mental illness, and encourage help-seeking among their peers.
We would like to recognize and congratulate our other finalist this year, Gerardo De La Torre (Diablo Valley College), and our winner, Georgia Messinger (Harvard University).
Learn more about the award and view previous winners.