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31 Days Denver Explores Mental Health Through Pandemic Stories

May 10, 2021

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and CU Denver student Shane Still is marking the occasion with 31 Days Denver. Still is featuring a new audio story and photograph on social media every day in May—“31 stories. 31 people. 1 pandemic.”

Shane Still
CU Denver student Shane Still created 31 Days Denver, a storytelling project on social media that explores mental health during COVID-19.

Still is a double major in communication and photography. As if that weren’t enough, he is also completing a business minor. 31 Days Denver is an attempt to synthesize all of his educational pursuits. “I wanted to do something for my BFA thesis that incorporated everything I’ve learned while at CU Denver,” he said. “That included photography, interviewing, writing, digital media, and business skills.”

And he wanted to do all that while raising awareness of an important issue. “Through 31 Days Denver, I want to become a mental health advocate for my generation,” he said. “I want to destigmatize mental health for Millennials and Gen-Zers.”

photos of young people
Subjects in Still’s project include family, friends, and CU Denver students and alumni. From left: Nick, Wen, and Jennie.

1 in 5 Adults Struggles with Mental Illness

Still, who calls himself an “open book,” is honest about his own mental health struggles. He began discussing his personal well-being with college friends during a study abroad trip to Italy in 2019. “Even though we were in this amazing place, we still couldn’t escape our mental health problems,” he said.

The pandemic exacerbated mental health issues for many reasons, including illness, loss, and stress. For Still, loneliness was the biggest factor. “When COVID hit, I was stuck at home all the time,” he said. “My mental health tanked.” With therapy and medication, he was able to feel better and return to school—just in time to complete his thesis project.

Still pointed out that, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults in the U.S. struggles with mental illness. “That was from a 2019 survey, before COVID hit,” he said. “The numbers have surely risen.”

31 Days Denver showcases Still’s photography skills through composition, lighting, and setting. The photos of diverse individuals, including eight CU Denver students and grads, demonstrate different facets of mental health struggles such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. “COVID-19 has dramatically affected everyone’s lives—and the photos tell the stories of those who have been affected,” Still said. Besides profiles of other Lynx, Still worked with fellow student Emilee Blakely, who helped with video work and photography; Max Antoine, who helped with mastering audio; and Professor Carol Golemboski, MFA, who sponsored Still’s UROP grant.

Shane Still with mask
31 Days Denver is partnering with local mental health resources.

Connecting People to Mental Health Resources

Still also managed to infuse the project with business savvy. He partnered with local mental health nonprofits, Mental Health Center of Denver and Colorado Crisis Services, in order to connect people reading the 31 stories with mental health professionals. He hired his friend Megan Byers to design the project’s logo, so all the platforms have a cohesive design. Additionally, he is selling 31 Days Denver face masks and donating a percentage of the profits to local mental health organizations.

On Instagram and TikTok, each photograph is accompanied by a short audio clip (30 – 60 seconds) that Still edited from lengthy interviews. The 31 Days Denver website includes longer stories, mental health resources, and information about the project and artist.

Still hopes 31 Days Denver will get people to speak openly about mental health—“So, let’s talk. Shall we?”