Eastern Michigan University student Hannah Palmer has created a nonprofit organization called the Sunflower Project to educate and help those struggling with their mental health.
The idea to begin a nonprofit organization began three years ago after Palmer survived five suicide attempts and struggled with self-harm. Palmer was inspired by a friend who had started her own nonprofit.
“I wanted to start an organization that could help people who were in a similar situation to myself in terms of being the atypical idea of someone with a mental illness,” Palmer said.
The Sunflower Project was officially started at the beginning of 2021. Starting a nonprofit organization during a pandemic has come with its own unique set of challenges, but according to Palmer, the need for such an organization has never been greater.
“I had people who had always been the happy-go-lucky people in my life start to have these feelings of anxiety or isolation,” Palmer said.
When Palmer recognized that her community was struggling, she began a Facebook group called Quarantine Unfiltered that has attracted over 600 members since May.
Next on Palmer’s horizon is a project with Ingham County schools where she plans to speak to over 20,000 students about her mental health journey and pressures from social media and school. Palmer will also be working with several districts to teach youth mental health first aid.
“[Youth mental health first aid] is basically a course that teaches participants the signs, symptoms and warning signs of a mental health crisis, as well as how to respond,” Palmer said.
Jared Baker, a mental health specialist at Ingham Intermediate School District, is working with Palmer to create programs that focus on destigmatizing mental health conditions and helping students open up about their struggles without fear.
“Our hope is that Hannah can help to break down some of those walls of stigma and through sharing her story can provide some courage and open some doors for some of those youth who are afraid of that social judgment,” Baker said. “They fear that stigma that comes along with maybe experiencing depression and anxiety, which is really common right now.”
Palmer and the Sunflower Project’s initiative to help students has extended into financial assistance. Many students with mental health conditions struggle to meet GPA and extracurricular requirements and are often ineligible for scholarships and grants. Palmer is trying to change that. Her goal is to help 25 people and raise $10,000 by the end of the year.
The Sunflower Project is offering scholarships and grants to those with diagnosed mental health conditions who are pursuing secondary education or who need financial assistance in order to receive psychiatric services. The nonprofit is opening up applications in the near future.
Palmer encourages people who are struggling with their mental health to reach out and seek help. She emphasizes that mental health conditions do not define a person.
“I have had many people tell me that I will never be successful in my life because I have depression and anxiety, but I have kind of transformed that into ‘I can do whatever I want and I can still be successful despite the challenges that I may face mentally,’” Palmer said. “I just encourage people to seek help and that it’s okay.”