Green Bandana Project adds color to mental health conversation
by Sydney Koch ’22
Randolph-Macon is the home of Lemon and Black, but this year, Yellow Jackets surely noticed flashes of lime green across campus. The bright bandanas seen hanging from students’ backpacks indicate support for the Green Bandana Project, a nationwide mental health and suicide prevention campaign that has found widespread adoption at the College thanks to the dedicated work of RMC’s campus chapter.
Originating at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2016, the Green Bandana Project aims to normalize conversations about mental health in the college environment—or, as the members of RMC’s chapter say, “sting the stigma.” Supporters tie a green bandana on their backpack to signify that they can put others in touch with regional or national mental health resources. The bandanas also represent a visible commitment to rejecting mental health stigma in all its forms.
“When students see green bandanas on campus, they know they can go to us for resources,” explained Molly Mahoney ’22, a student officer in Randolph-Macon’s Green Bandana Project chapter.
Mahoney, a member of the women’s lacrosse team and a volunteer mental health advocate, was excited to learn about the group through RMC’s chapter director, Derek Marsilio ’22, who played men’s lacrosse. Together, their teams embraced the mission and helped to share the group’s message with other athletic teams and then the broader community.
“My favorite memory from this past year was the inaugural bandana distribution day where members from different athletic teams and academic departments gathered at the Fountain and got their bandana to fight against mental health stigma,” Marsilio said.
Following the RMC chapter’s founding in August 2021, Green Bandana members were present at nearly every sporting event. Since then the group has used athletic games as opportunities to raise money for campus and Richmond-area organizations and recruit new members to the cause.
The need for increased access to mental health resources is evident in sobering statistics. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among college students, and the Mayo Clinic estimates that up to 44% of college students report symptoms of depression and anxiety. Despite the prevalence of mental health issues among members of their age group, many students are reluctant to seek help due a variety of factors like discrimination against people living with mental illness, barriers to healthcare, or a lack of awareness that help exists. Randolph-Macon’s Green Bandana chapter hopes to promote campus resources like the Center for Counseling Services while also providing a comfortable, safe environment for students to discuss mental health issues.
Mahoney emphasized that the start of the Green Bandana Project on RMC’s campus came at the right time, with a challenging transition back from a pandemic-disturbed academic year in which many courses had been remote. “We needed something that was not only for athletes, but for everyone who was going through that transition,” Mahoney said.
Since RMC chartered a Green Bandana Project branch, Mahoney has noticed a drastic difference in the conversation surrounding mental health on campus. Not only is that conversation more audible, it also includes more participants.
“I’ve noticed more people pushing to get help, even if they think it’s a small issue,” Mahoney said, pinpointing the College’s expanded online counseling services as one among many ways RMC has increased access to mental health care.
The widespread embrace of the Green Bandana Project at Randolph-Macon is particularly impressive considering its newness. Braeden Aycock ’22, winner of the 2022 Pepper and Stuart Laughon Commitment to Community Award, chose the group to receive the cash prize associated with the award. As Mahoney and her fellow officers pass the baton to the next round of Green Bandana officers, she expects that even more growth is yet to come.
“We have about 70 core members, and that’s just in our first year,” she explained. “I think that in the next few years, events are going to become bigger, as will the organization’s involvement in the community.”
Sydney Koch ’22 is an RMC senior from Raleigh, North Carolina. As a student-athlete studying English, Sydney has found an ability to juggle her passions of volleyball and writing throughout her college experience.