“We focus on mental health and suicide prevention, (and) we use a buddy pairing system,” said Ally Yoder, president of Buddy Project at UNC. “It’s also an international program. It’s online and you can do it with other students across the United States or even through just this university.”
While Buddy Project is new to UNC’s campus, it’s been pairing individuals across the country since 2013 to reduce the stigma of mental illness, bullying and negativity on social media, according to the Buddy Project webpage.
“I’m glad we’re bringing it to UNC so more people are aware of the resources they have with mental health,” Yoder said.
Yoder reached out to UNC Paws to collaborate for “Doggies and Discussion.” Yoder has an emotional support dog with her on campus and thought bringing the groups together would connect with the student body.
Sunny Westerman, program coordinator for UNC Paws, was thrilled to collaborate with the Buddy Project for Mental Health Awareness Week.
“The goal is to open up a dialogue about mental health,” Westerman said. “Obviously, or maybe it’s not obvious, there is a stigma around mental health and often people either don’t want to talk about, or don’t know how to talk about it and it can just be kind of an awkward subject.”
But in the presence of dogs that uncomfortable feeling fades, Westerman said.
“When we’re interacting with a dog, our heart rate goes down, our blood pressure goes down and we release a bunch of feel good hormones,” Westerman said.
Tuesday’s event was just one of several going on throughout Mental Health Awareness Week. While it’s only the first year, Cury said she hopes the student groups and mental health coalition are laying a solid foundation for the week to take off next year.
“We really want students to come and approach us, because in Student Government and the mental health coalition at large, we’re trying to make this university a better place for the students,” Cury said.
Mental Health Awareness Week runs from Monday to Sunday and is designed "with events underscoring mental health in context with diversity, minority students, first-gen students, transfer students, LGBTQIA+ students, and mental health and the arts,” according to the event’s Facebook page.
The week culminates with the National Eating Disorder Association Walk in Raleigh on Sunday.