Yellow Tulip Project takes root at BBA

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MANCHESTER — A new student organization at Burr and Burton Academy is seeking to break the stigma of anxiety and mental illness.

A chapter of the Yellow Tulip Project has been founded through the efforts of school and college counselor Kristen Kimball and mental health director Megan Brooks, and students including Zoe Grigsby have gotten involved in the hope of normalizing the conversation on mental health topics.

"There are many stigmas and false perceptions attached to words like 'anxiety' or 'depression.' We want those terms to be used as casually, or with the same regards, as talking about a physical illness or injury," Grigsby told the Journal. "We believe that this will create a more understanding and accepting community."

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five teenagers and young adults lives with a mental health condition, with half of developing the condition by age 14 and 75 percent by age 24.

Kimball said she has a direct connection to the founding of The Yellow Tulip Project, as she worked alongside the mother of its young founder, Julia Hansen, when she lived in Maine.

As a 16-year-old high school student, Hansen launched The Yellow Tulip Project in 2016 after two of her closest high school friends took their own lives within a six-month span. Hansen was determined to do something positive to bring awareness to mental illness and break its stigma, and chose to name it The Yellow Tulip Project to honor one of her friend's favorite colors, and the other's favorite flower. It's also meant to symbolize light and hope.

On Wednesday, which was also World Mental Health Day, the group took a first step at BBA by planting a tulip garden outside the BBA health center.

There were snacks, apple cider, music, and opportunities for students and faculty to share messages of hope.

"The Yellow Tulip Project is meant to let people know that 'Hope Happens,'" Kimball told the Journal. "The signature event is this tulip garden. We plant in the fall and will hold another celebration of hope in the spring when the tulips bloom. We may continue doing more tulip gardens here next year, or may move out into the community," to locations such as churches, hospitals, mental health organizations, she said.

According to NAMI, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the United States, affecting 40 million adults, or 18 percent of the adult population. About 8 percent of children and teenagers experience the negative impact of an anxiety disorder at school and at home, the organization says on its website.

"The focus of the organization is to create Tulip Teams in schools everywhere in order to normalize mental illness, and generally split apart the false perceptions regarding the topic," Grigsby said.

Another activity sponsored by the organization is an "I Am More" exhibit in which people from the community are photographed and come up with six "I am" statements, including one that states what mental illness they live with. This normalizes the diagnosis, and emphasizes that people's illnesses are not their whole identities.

" There are sometimes support groups for students if they choose to hold those — they can meet as frequently as they want, and is part of the reason Megan [Brooks] is involved," Kimball said. "We want to have a clinician facilitating those conversations."

Students who are part of the group have different personal reasons for joining — whether they've dealt with anxiety or depression personally, have a friend or loved one who has faced a mental health condition or crisis, or just want to make a difference.

"I wanted get involved with the Yellow Tulip Project because at the end of my sophomore year my cousin committed suicide and it really came as a shock to me," said BBA student Melissa Nolan. "I didn't know about everything he was dealing with, so I really wanted to find a way to celebrate his life and remember the great person that he was."

"I got involved because I would like to care and give hope to people that have a mental illness. I would love to be able to include these people in everything whether their illnesses are really severe or mild," fellow BBA student Lauren Carter. "These people are like everyone else on the inside and should be respected individually for who they are. I also got involved because I am interested in helping people with mental issues be all the best that they can be."

Reach Journal editor Greg Sukiennik at gsukiennik@manchesterjournal.com or at 802-490-6000.

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