Public relations students bring mental, behavioral health issues to the forefront
by Kittu Pannu
Public relations students at Louisiana State University have partnered with the Mental Health Association for Greater Baton Rouge to bring the importance of mental health to light and reduce its stigma. Through their public relations capstone class, the student-run group Supreme Public Relations has started implementing an awareness campaign to share its thought-provoking message with the Baton Rouge community: mental health affects the whole community, not just the individuals.
Research shows that one in four adults suffers from a diagnosable mental illness each year. Through their "One-in-Four Campaign," Supreme Public Relations will raise awareness about MHA's mission and purpose, raise money for the organization and attract new and influential board members for MHA.
Mental health is a prevalent topic in the news, yet many do not truly understand it, said Melissa Silva, MHA executive director. Through its work with MHA, Supreme Public Relations aims to remove preconceived notions about those afflicted with mental or behavioral illnesses. Educating the community about the importance of mental health as well as MHA programs for wellness can contribute to a healthier, happier city, Silva said.
"MHA is determined to provide the best quality services to our clients as possible," Silva said. "We have seen many success stories and will work to see many more."
Dr. Jinx Broussard, PR area head at the Manship School of Mass Communication, believes that this type of service learning helps instill the fundamentals of public relations in students. By reaching out to the community, students broaden their perspectives of the world around them. Under the supervision of Broussard, Supreme Public Relations reached out to Southern University to expand the campaign's impact to other parts of Baton Rouge.
"Working with nonprofits not only allows the students to gain real world public relations experience, but it also gives them the opportunity to benefit the community," Broussard said. "That's what makes our program at LSU stand out."
Supreme Public Relations left no stone unturned when executing their campaign, according to Christine Derbins, mass communication and math senior and Supreme Public Relations member.
"The best part about working with MHA is that we are able to see the results immediately," Derbins said. "Because it's not the biggest organization in Baton Rouge, we have a lot more freedom to experiment with creating something worthwhile and effective."
Breaking the stigmas associated with mental health, the group teamed up with campus media outlets to encourage students to utilize LSU's Mental Health Services provided by the Student Health Center. One group member and mass communication senior, Karoline Dreher, felt that these services should also be highlighted when trying to reach out to students.
"LSU Mental Health Services not only provided me with the treatment I need for absolutely no cost, but they also treated me with care and respect at every visit," Dreher said. "I felt like they truly wanted me to feel better."
Despite providing invaluable services to the community, nonprofit organizations like MHA often suffer from a lack of funding, according to Broussard. Supreme Public Relations is working to alleviate MHA's need for money and supplies. Teaming up with LSU organizations and other universities in the area, Supreme Public Relations implemented a toiletry supply drive for MHA's Alliance House Residential Center, a transitional living facility for individuals with substance addictions and mental illness.
In addition, the student group partnered with Reginelli's Pizzeria for an event held March 21, 2013, where a portion of each diner's meal was donated to MHA. Supreme Public Relations also partnered with area Subway Sandwiches franchisees who will donate sandwich platters weekly to feed clients at MHA's Alliance Drop-In Center, where clients can learn and develop necessary skills to become fully functioning members of society.
For more information on the Public Relations curriculum and other service learning opportunities at LSU, please go to http://www.manship.lsu.edu.
photos by Eddy Perez/LSU University Relations