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SAIT Trojans Raise the Roof for Mental Health

No one should suffer in silence.

It’s a message that struck a resounding, cacophonous chord on the SAIT campus — and the racket just keeps on growing.

In late spring of 2014, SAIT Trojans staffers Billie Rae Busby and Samantha Turbach (RTBN ‘09) gathered in an office on campus, still trying to come to grips with the senseless stabbing deaths of five University of Calgary students that horrified a city and shocked the nation.

Busby, the Trojans’ Marketing and Communications Coordinator, and Turbach, the Trojans’ Game and Event Coordinator, were determined to make some good from a terrible situation by shining a spotlight on mental health — and by using the Trojan Outreach Program, the student-athlete-directed community service arm of the Athletics department, to do it.

“We were angry. We were upset,” recalls Busby. “Samantha looked at me and said, ‘Yeah — we really need to make some noise here.’ ”

Student-athletes and coaches from every SAIT Trojans team embraced Make Some Noise, an award-winning grassroots campaign helping to break the stigma surrounding mental health.

A campaign of health and well-being

With some hard work and plenty of enthusiasm, the Make Some Noise for Mental Health awareness campaign took shape.

This grassroots campaign, led by SAIT Trojans student-athletes, was aimed at shattering the stigma around mental illness, encouraging an open mind and a healthy conversation around mental health, and promoting the support and resources that are available.

With promotion through posters, videos and social media (including the #makesomenoise hashtag), the Make Some Noise campaign peaked during the final week of January — often a stressful time of year for students — with a pep rally, campus walkabouts, and a high-decibel din, complete with cowbells, throughout a busy slate of Trojan home games.

“We wanted to let students know that there’s a food bank on campus, that there’s financial aid available, that there are amazing yoga and meditation and recreation facilities on campus,” says Busby. (View a list of all student resources available on campus)

“The campaign was aimed at overall health and well-being, because it’s OK to sometimes not be OK.”

Passionate support from Trojan student-athletes

Trojan student-athletes including Mikael Jung posed for posters promoting the campaign. Jung's participation was an important way of showing that male athletes can be affected by mental health issues. The Trojans’ Make Some Noise initiative was buoyed by on-campus partnerships, and found its way across Canada thanks to an association with Canadian non-profit organization Student-Athlete Mental Health Initiative (SAMHI).

But the pilot project truly found its target thanks to the wholehearted embrace it received from SAIT Trojans student-athletes.

Cross-country runner Becca Gould (NMPD ‘15) created the program’s logo and brand identity; hockey player Mikael Jung (IT ‘15), was an unfailing “poster boy” for the campaign; and basketball player Jasmine Bergen-Henengouwen (NHL ‘13), a Respiratory Therapy student, proved a dependable ringleader in gathering large groups of SAIT Trojans student-athletes for those rowdy campus walkabouts.

Student-athletes, in particular, are expected to be experts in time management — handling a full course load, managing practices and games, and negotiating multiple sets of expectations on the floor or on the ice.

“As a student-athlete, I feel like this issue is misunderstood,” says Jung. “Traditionally, athletes are told to tough it out, to get over it. And because it’s a competitive environment, it’s a survival-of-the-fittest mentality.”

Adds Bergen-Henengouwen: “You’re expected to be strong mentally and physically. But the reality is… everybody deals with stress in different ways. And if you’re in trouble, and need help — just ask.”

ACAC spreads campaign province-wide

By sheer coincidence, the Chief Executive Officer of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC), Mark Kosak, was visiting the SAIT campus for meetings at the end of January and experienced the Make Some Noise weekend first-hand.

He talked with Busby about taking the campaign provincewide and, as a result, all 17 ACAC schools will be banging the drum this winter, with various Make Some Noise awareness campaigns being staged between mid-January and mid-February. The ACAC is helping out with T-shirts, noisemakers and other promotional items, while hoping to find corporate partners through an affiliation with the Canadian Mental Health Association.

“The student-athletes are our primary focus, but we know this will extend to every student on campus,” says Kosak. “The time frame we’ve chosen is deliberate. It’s purportedly the most depressing time of the year — following Christmas, right around so-called Blue Monday.

“Statistics have told us this is the time when counselling services tend to see the most students.”

Watch highlights fromj the 2014 Make Some Noise awareness campaign.

The value of community citizenship

Make Some Noise is yet another example of community work being done by the Trojan Outreach Program, which sees individual Trojan athletes and teams participate in more than 30 clinics, fundraisers and charitable events each season.

Mark Kosak and Billie Rae Busby are combining forces to take Make Some Noise province-wide. In June, the initiative resulted in SAIT capturing the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association (CCAA) Community Service Award – the fourth time SAIT has taken that honour since 2004.

“I’m so proud of the amazing initiative that’s constantly shown by our student-athletes,” notes Busby.

“We would have seen the Make Some Noise campaign as a success anyway, but the CCAA award demonstrates, again, the value of community citizenship.”

Written by Todd Kimberley