On the 7th of October the ANU launched its inaugural Day of Giving campaign with a gold-coin lunch in Union Court. The campaign is driven by the ANU Alumni Relations and Philanthropy unit, in close coordination with the National Institute for Mental Health Research (NIMHR) on campus.

Coinciding with National Mental Health Awareness Week, the day intended to raise awareness about mental health issues, the work of the NIMHR, and to raise $50,000 for the NIMHR (in addition to the $50,000 already pledged by two external donors). The stalls and BBQ were supported by staff from the NIMHR, Alumni Relations and Philanthropy, and ANUSA.

The organisers particularly wanted to draw attention to the NIMHR’s online self-help programs and resources, such as MoodGYM, e-couch, and Blueboard. Interactive and therapeutic, they have assisted more than one million people globally with mental health issues.

Maree Choenden-Dhongdue, the Annual Giving Manager in ANU’s Alumni Relations and Philanthropy unit, said that in addition raising funds and awareness of the NIMHR’s mission, she hoped the Day of Giving would educate the ANU community that “people can give to university, and that their gift actually matters.”

“It’s all about that idea that ANU is a destination for meaningful and transformational giving,” she said.

Choenden-Dhongdue stressed the “incredible impact” of NIMHR programs, particularly its “translational research that actually gives back, is able to contribute to people, and make a change in their life.”

While the Day of Giving was not initiated in response to any particular mental health need specific to ANU, Choenden-Dhongdue was driven by her commitment to student welfare in the launching of the project.

She cited phone appeals run by Alumni Relations and herself that “employ 40 students every year” to speak to ANU alumni about current student life. The employees highlighted the stress in students’ lives, particularly during examination and heavy assessment periods. She felt that managing these students and assisting them with their mental health concerns alerted her to these issues.

“I’m just noticing more and more the impact on students’ lives. They hold down jobs, they have full-time study commitments, they have extracurricular activities. There’s a lot of pressure on students, and we see the impact of that.”

“I don’t think I know anyone who hasn’t been touched by mental illness,” she continued. “So this is really personal for everyone involved in the process. Certainly I’ve got a very personal story about it, and for me it’s really important that we make these services accessible and available to people.”

She also felt that the funds raised over the year in ANU’s Annual Giving program should be appropriately disbursed, particularly to mental health areas.

While still early in the day, Choenden-Dhongdue was “really heartened by the support shown so far,” and that if funding goals were achieved, “NIMHR would be assured of $100,000 in total.”

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