By C. Aileen Blaine
Students and staff members anticipated the unveiling of the Mental Health Awareness Art Contest’s winning piece at an open house hosted by Student Counseling Services. A framed photo sat expectantly beneath a red sheet.
The piece was by clinical, addiction and school counseling graduate student Justina Gazso.
“Each person has a different plant kind of growing and shifting, and having a different phase of where it’s at,” Gazso said. “The goal was to have a variety of facial expressions as well as tones in it, because so many people have things that they’re going through.”
Anne Lally, assistant director of Student Counseling Services, said she developed the idea for the contest as a way to encourage students to engage in the campus discussion regarding mental health.
“[The contest] is to raise awareness for mental health, reduce stigma surrounding mental health services, but — very importantly — it’s to give our student body an opportunity to have ownership of the student counseling services,” she said.
The contest also featured submissions from three other students, and the pieces were judged on the basis of how well each addressed the following themes:
Reducing the stigma of mental health and seeking treatment
Advocating the promotion of mental health awareness
Representing positivity, inclusivity and diversity within the campus community
Showcasing a creative, enduring message
The submissions also came with written explanations of the works’ meanings, which were considered in the judging process. The judging panel featured a diverse range of campus community members, such as a layout design artist and a student representative from the YSU National Alliance on Mental Illness group.
The contest ran from Sept. 7 to Oct. 8. Its purpose was to raise awareness for mental health and reduce the stigma surrounding seeking mental health services.
“Each person has different struggles that they’re going through, and that impacts them differently,” Gazso said. “With time, energy and more time and effort, you’re able to bring back life into yourself, just like you can with plants.”
The artworks are on display in the counseling services waiting room as a tribute to student involvement in mental health awareness.
Lally said she wanted to start the contest two years ago, but the pandemic delayed it until this semester. She hopes to host the event each fall.
“My goal really is for students to … increase their comfort level with coming to student counseling. Seeing artwork from their fellow students being displayed here … speaks to them that this is their center,” Lally said.
Gazso encouraged those who think they may need help or are struggling to reach out.
“Sometimes people get nervous and anxious with the aspect of where they are or where their ‘plant’ is at, and they worry that it’s unsaveable,” Gazso said. “It’s easy to focus on the darkness as it becomes overwhelming … As your perspective shifts, it’s easier to look at the life around you and see more of the brighter areas.”