Olivia Trudeau’s Girl Scouts Gold Award Project Stamps Out Stigmas to Tackle Mental Illness

Olivia Trudeau tackles mental illness awareness with a Girl Scout project.
Plymouth’s Olivia Trudeau tapped art students to design posters, which directly targeted stereotypes about depression and anxiety, in her Girl Scouts Gold Award-winning project aimed at increasing mental health awareness.

Mental illness can be sticky. It’s hard to talk about, even as adults, but it’s prevalent and important to embrace awareness for the sake of those who suffer—which in America is as many as one in every five people, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“There has been a societal idea that issues like anxiety and depression are private and should not be discussed in groups,” Girl Scout Olivia Trudeau wrote in her final project report, completed in spring 2014 and awarded the prestigious Gold Award this past June. “To counter this harmful perspective, I created a program that gives students the opportunity to work together to identify and address these issues they see every day.” Trudeau built awareness through a poster campaign and peer-to-peer discussions in a homeroom setting.

Girl Scouts Minnesota & Wisconsin River Valleys board treasurer Norma Porter served as advisor to Trudeau, having met her in 2011 when they both served as delegates to the Girl Scouts of USA’s national council session and its subsequent annual meetings.

“Olivia’s approach to mental health involved using peers to help break down barriers to access, as opposed to working with adults to try to break through those barriers. Olivia identified that many youth are not comfortable speaking to their parents about this issue, but were more comfortable working with peers or obtaining information at school in a confidential manner,” Porter says. “Olivia’s project was successful, as she tied into student organizations to both implement the project as well as sustain the project in the future.”

In addition to rolling out the program at her high school, Maple Grove Senior High, and two Osseo-area schools, Trudeau presented talks to community groups. One of these presentations led to Trudeau receiving a $3,500 scholarship.

Here Trudeau talks candidly about what it takes to earn a
Gold Award, and what Girl Scouts means to her and the Plymouth community into
the future:

When did you start
Girl Scouts?

I joined in kindergarten; now I have a discounted lifetime
membership, which is offered to all graduating seniors [Trudeau graduated in
June 2014]. Now I can help with volunteering at different events and troops
without having to pay an annual membership fee.

What made you think
to start Stamping Out Stigma? Was it born from personal experience?
I have had a lot of friends, actually, who have struggled
with things, depression or whatever, so there have been a lot of people I have
supported. I thought, “It gets to be really heavy when you’re the only person
that friend relies on.” There are actually lots of other people willing to help
and even going through the same thing. Kids who are struggling should know it’s
more common than you think and that there’s nothing wrong with them.

In your own words,
briefly describe the program?

I created a guided discussion curriculum that older students
[in Link Crew] can lead younger students through. It’s a new take on mental
health awareness—I worked with the Maple Grove Senior High art club to create a
poster campaign, in addition to the homeroom-based curriculum … it’s planned to
run about one time a month—topics include a mental health overview, stress
management, communication skills and community resources … [Now] Osseo Senior
and Junior high schools are doing the program, too.

Is it continuing? If
so, what’s your involvement?

I like to think they are continuing again this year. The way
I created it, schools are able to adapt it to make changes to their class
schedules. That’s how gold awards work—they’re supposed to be sustainable, to continue
on their own, which is why I involved so many different groups at my high
school [MGHS] originally … I haven’t been as involved as I wish I could be
since I’m in my freshman year in college and super busy.

How do you think your
Girl Scouts experience will carry through to your adult life?

I can’t even tell you all the skills and connections I have
made through Girl Scouts. [For one] I was pretty shy as a kid, and there’s
something about getting shoved in front of a door to sell cookies that gets you
over that fear pretty quick.

What are you doing
now? What are you studying at the University of Minnesota?

I’m minoring in French and majoring in genetics—it covers so
many different angles. I’ve been a camp counselor for girls with disabilities,
involved in drug-use awareness. Genetics ties them all together … I’m also
working in a research lab at the U of M studying gene therapy for Huntington’s
Disease as part of the undergraduate research scholarship I received.

What didn’t I ask
that I should have?

The big thing I like to emphasize is I like to go about
mental health in a new way. Lots of people are putting on suicide awareness
days after something tragic happens.
In my pilot program, I conducted a survey: Every student who participated, every
single one, felt more comfortable being able to address mental health issues. I
got feedback that my program was more relatable than health class—and less
cheesy. It’s a more meaningful way to spend homeroom time.


Gold Award Facts and Figures
Courtesy of Girl Scouts of the USA

  • Gold Award recipients spend an average of one to two
    years on their projects.
  • Gold Award standards require Girl Scouts spend a
    minimum of 80 hours working on their project.
  • The average age of Gold Award recipients is 17.
  • In nearly 100 years, 1 million girls have earned the
    Gold Award.
  • Gold Award recipients who join the armed services
    enter at one rank higher than other recruits.
  • University research indicates that having Girl Scout Gold Award
    on a college application is a critical element in the admissions decision