Stand Up for Your Sisters: One woman’s work for mental health awareness

Stacy Gann, senior in family studies and human services and resident assistant in Ford Hall, facilitates a program called Stand Up for Your Sisters, which allows young women on campus to participate in discussions about sensitive topics anonymously, allowing them the opportunity to see that they're not alone with the things they're struggling with. (Hallie Lucas | The Collegian)

After losing two friends to suicide since starting college, Staci Gann, Ford Hall resident assistant and senior in family studies and human services, created a mental health awareness program that started in Ford Hall and has now spread across the country.

Gann started the mental health awareness program Stand Up for Your Sisters during the spring 2016 semester. Losing two of her friends to suicide triggered her desire to spread the word and work toward more mental health awareness, Gann said.

Gann said she wants people to be educated and be aware of mental health issues so they can help the people around them struggling.

“That is what really fuels the flame of wanting to continue doing it and making people aware of it,” Gann said.

Her first program had around 50 women participating, and since then Gann said she has been asked to facilitate the program at sororities on campus, as well as for the K-State rowing team.

Stand Up for Your Sisters is a way for women to actively and anonymously participate in a group where sensitive subjects are brought up, Gann said.

“You hand out a survey with between 20 and 30 yes or no questions and nobody writes their name on it,” Gann said. “The questions range from, ‘Have you ever failed a class?’ to ‘Have you ever struggled with depression, anxiety or an eating disorder?’ and we basically go through topics that people don’t feel comfortable talking about.”

After the group has finished their survey, Gann said she has all the participants fold the surveys up and pass them in. The surveys are then randomly redistributed to the participates, so each participant ends up with someone else’s survey in hand.

“We read the question out loud, so if the person whose survey you have in hand had circled yes to the question, you stand up,” Gann said. “It is a visual representation of how many women in the room are struggling with that specific thing.”

The topics talked about are oftentimes shoved under the rug by the person experiencing them because they are embarrassed to think about it or even feel vulnerable. The point of the program is for women to see they are not alone and that others are experiencing the same struggles too, Gann said.

“When you are doing the survey, you are literally holding somebody’s reality in your hands,” Gann said.

Rachel Haskell, sophomore in kinesiology and past Ford resident, had a lot of good things to say about Gann.

“She is just the most incredible person I have ever met, so selfless and genuinely cares for others,” Haskell said. “It is so cool to see her be so passionate about others.”

Haskell needed to find a mental health program to fill a presentation spot at her sorority, and although she couldn’t attend the inaugural Stand Up for Your Sisters program at Ford, Haskell said her roommate was quick to suggest it.

“(Gann) was great about being vulnerable and sharing her own personal stories,” Haskell said. “It helped open others up, especially if a girl you don’t know is willing to open up to you.”

Gann said that vulnerability is a necessity when participating in the program.

Stand Up for Your Sisters is not just a program available to Kansas State students, according to Carly Corio, assistant residence life coordinator at Ford and graduate student in counseling and student development.

“The Stand Up for Your Sisters program is now on a national database within the National Residence Hall Honorary and is available for other campuses to integrate,” Corio said.

The program was nominated by Corio for an “Of the Month” award at K-State and for a regional National Residence Hall Honorary award. Gann said it won both.

“I hope the takeaways from the women who participated in the program are that they feel unified with the women around them,” Gann said.

Stand Up for Your Sisters is just a start, Gann said. She looks forward to working in the trauma counseling field, preferably with women on college campuses.

“Every time I think about it, I just shake because I think, ‘This is so cool, that I’m not really qualified to do this yet, but I’ve been given the opportunity to present something like Stand Up for Your Sisters,’” Gann said. “It’s honestly an honor.”

Gann said she wants to remove the façade of neatness that people put on when they come to college because mental health is an evident issue, now and in the future.