Groups fly 1,400 flags for mental health awareness in the quad

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Green flags were placed in the quad for mental health awareness this week.

The UNC Interfraternity Council and UNC-system Association of Student Governments collaborated to place 1,400 lime green flags in Polk Place. Each flag represents 10 people who will suffer from mental illness in their academic career at UNC. Lime green is the recognized color for mental health awareness.

Deja Gilmore, the Association of Student Governments vice president of campus outreach, said a 2016 Healthy Minds Network study said roughly 46 percent of four-year college students under the age of 25 reported a mental health condition.

Luke Cullifer, IFC vice president of public relations and the campus liaison for the Association of Student Governments, said he wanted to create a visual display of the issue’s prevalence.

“This was to bring awareness to mental health, not being something that like 2 percent of us struggle with — it’s something almost half of us struggle with,” Cullifer said.

The flag display was part of the association’s mental health awareness week.

Two volunteers from each of the 25 IFC fraternities put out the flags Thursday night. Originally supposed to last for 24 hours, the display was extended to last until Monday night due to positive responses. Cullifer said the IFC wants to make this an annual event.

Cullifer said he got the idea for the flag display from the American flags put out around the Bell Tower in the fall to commemorate those who died on 9/11. He said he hopes the flags will make people think of what others are dealing with instead of their own problems.

“I’m hoping what these flags will do is help people look at the campus community and take that watchful look around and say ‘how can I help a person today?’” he said.

Gentry Fitch, the vice president of governmental strategy for the association, said he thinks the flags show the actual way mental illness affects people’s lives.

“It’s a really beautiful symbolism, I think, actually. The flags on the quad — when you think about it, number one, there were a lot of flags and they took an entire portion of the quad and that was disruptive,” Fitch said. “I think the symbolism there was to show that mental health is disruptive.”

Gilmore said she wants the flag display to help end mental illness stigmas.

“Really, I want the reaction to be increased dialogue about the issue of mental health and self-care because when it comes to mental illness, it is something that isn’t talked about,” Gilmore said.

Cullifer said he wants people suffering from mental illness to forget the stigmas surrounding the issues and to treat mental health as importantly as they do their physical health.

“Mental health does not mean you’re weak,” Cullifer said. “It does not mean you’re less.”

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