New York is certainly as fast paced as I’ve always heard, but that didn’t stop people from all ages and all sides of life from slowing down and interacting with the display. Time after time I’d notice someone walk by, do a double-take towards the 1,100 backpacks laid out in Flatiron plaza, and then come spend some of their day asking questions and absorbing the stories. Being somewhere as metropolitan as New York also allowed us to expand our reach even further geographically—”Supporting mental health from across the world,” one person wrote on our banner.
As with all of our city displays, being in New York gave us a chance to reach out to more than just college students. City displays bring us a larger range of ages and many different life stories. Mental health is something that affects everyone, and with the help of several local colleges and universities we were able to impact a huge amount of people with our display at Flatiron Plaza.
Throughout the day, the staff and volunteers talked with parents, teachers, and relatives that were concerned for the young people in their lives. Kids as young as elementary age were interacting with the display and being educated about mental health by the adults that visited with them. Many people commented on the important messages that the display leaves with them. A mother commented to me that educating kids about mental health is extremely important to the way that they treat other people. She also said that she wanted to start having an open dialogue with her sons about feelings and mental health while they are young, which is such a valuable tool to give them. It’s never too early or too late to adopt these kinds of healthy habits.
There were also conversations with older generations during the display. It was a learning experience for students to hear about the struggles that others had already gone through. People thanked us for speaking up for people that may not have a voice, especially when they were college aged. We heard from older generations about a sense of hope after struggling for years with issues they thought they couldn’t talk about.
It’s a moving and humbling experience to see so many people come together for something so ubiquitous. Mental health is something that every person that has ever lived—and ever will live—shares with one another. With even the smallest actions we can begin to take enormous leaps—and the first step is simply deciding to listen.