Active Minds members attend National Mental Health Conference in Maryland
As college students, it’s normal to feel stressed out every once in a while. As papers, presentations and exams endlessly pile up on our plates, our nerves are bound to get shot, and anxiety is destined to arise. But not all mental health problems can or should be chalked up to our student status. Sometimes these emotions are a warning sign of something deeper, of something that won’t go away when that economics problem set is done or that British literature paper is written.
Active Minds, a student group here at the College, aims to educate students about mental health. “Active Minds is the only organization working to utilize the student voice to change the conversation about mental health on college campuses….The organization works to increase students’ awareness of mental health issues, provide information and resources regarding mental health and mental illness, encourage students to seek help as soon as it is needed and serve as liaison between students and the mental health community,” according to the Active Minds website.
The program was originally formed in 2001 at the University of Pennsylvania. Allison Malmon, a student at the university, sought to change the stigma among young people on mental health following her brother’s suicide. After two years as a campus organization, Active Minds was established as a national nonprofit organization. There are currently 370 chapters across the United States and Canada that work to change the conversation surrounding mental health.
Abigail Meyers ’11 brought Active Minds to the Hill in 2009 after learning about the program at another school. “Having a mental illness is not something to be ashamed or embarrassed about,” Meyers said in a previous interview with the Echo.
Emily Barr ’13 is the current president of Colby’s Active Minds chapter, as well as a board member of Student Health On Campus (SHOC). “My goal at Colby is to create a campus where students feel encouraged to speak openly about mental health and seek help,” Barr said.
An organization on campus that was virtually unheard of, even as recently as two years ago, Active Minds has already made great strides in creating a notable presence at the College. The program’s first major event on campus was in November 2009, when Active Minds shared the stories of students on the Hill who have suffered from a mental illness during an event called “Narratives on Mental Health.”
This past October, Active Minds participated in National Day Without Stigma. “We gave out pencils that said ‘Erase the Mental Health Stigma. Be Mindful’ as a way to erase the stigma that prevents individuals with mental illness from seeking help,” Barr said.
Active Minds also sponsored First-Year Wellness Seminar speaker, Melissa Ann Hopely, to come to the Hill to discuss her own battle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and depression and her road to recovery.
Two members of Colby’s chapter of Active Minds, Barr and Ellie Linden ’14, recently traveled to the University of Maryland, College Park to attend Active Minds’ eighth annual National Mental Health Conference.
“In September, I asked Patricia Newmen, the head of the counseling center at Colby, if she thought it would be possible for Active Minds to get funding to attend,” Barr said. The two were able to get their flight and hotel room funded by the College, and the Student Government Association (SGA) provided funding for admission tickets.
“We were the first Colby students to attend the conference, and we want to thank the Colby community for making it possible,” Barr continued. Both Barr and Linden left the conference with a strong drive to increase the presence of the group on campus.
“The conference had a lot of great speakers who talked about their personal experiences with mental health disorders, and it gave us an opportunity to talk to a lot of the other Active Minds chapters in the country to hear different events they had done, what worked and what didn’t work and how they made their event an effective way to talk to their campuses,” Linden said.
In total, over 500 people from across the country attended the conference. On the first day, the pair attended a regional brainstorming and discussion with other North Eastern collegiate chapters.
“We discussed what it means to be an advocate on an individual, chapter and institutional level,” Barr said. “As an individual, [one should] be a listener. As a chapter, we must erase the stigma surrounding mental health. And, as an institution, the fact that Colby was willing to fund our trip shows that the College is interested in continuing the conversation surrounding mental health.”
Barr and Linden also attended a performance by award-winning singer and songwriter Meg Hutchinson, who sang about her struggle with bipolar disorder for nine years and the highs and lows she experienced throughout her life.
“The performance was very powerful, and it may be a good idea to educate Colby students on mental health by bringing in musicians,” Barr said.
Both students were new faces at the conference and are hoping that Colby students will continue to attend in the future. “Since our program at Colby is new, my role was mostly to listen to the different ideas and experiences that other groups around the country had done. I came away with a lot of different ideas, from a full ‘Stress-Out Day’ to smaller activities on campus that could be done as easily at a table in Pulver Pavilion,” Linden said.
For now, the two will continue to expand both the group and the extent of its programming. Future plans include an “I Matter” campaign in Pulver from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2. “The idea is that the time before finals can be stressful for everyone, so it is important to take time out for yourself,” Barr said. Active Minds will be distributing stickers that say “I Matter” as part of the campaign.
“I can see Active Minds being a very effective way to help the campus talk about mental health issues openly,” Linden concluded. “It can be a way to relieve stress among the student body, help people to know it’s OK to get help and provide many other services that would make the student body happier overall.”