Students in the campus organization Active Minds hope to bring discussions about mental illness out into the open and remove the often crushing stigma associated with experiencing mental illness.
On Tuesday, Oct. 8, Active Minds will hold Step Inside My Head, an awareness event that begins with a barbecue gathering before moving on to a speaker. Students will also have a chance to share their own experiences with mental illness with others at the event. The event begins at 4:30pm on the Campus Center back patio (rain location, Riley Commons).
Active Minds president Theresa Renna, a senior biology and pre-med major, says the organization can help change people’s lives. “People struggle with mental illness, and they don’t get help because of the stigma around it,” Renna says. “But it is something you are born with, and people are just afraid to talk about it.”
Sometimes, Renna says, hearing others speak makes someone feel less alone and so the “Step Inside My Head” idea came about.
Working together, Active Minds and the Muslim Student Association have invited Lisa St. George, with her background in social work, teaching, and public speaking, to come and talk about her own experiences with mental health issues. Following the presentation, Renna said at least five people have indicated they will share their own stories, as well, and she hopes more students will do the same.
Active Minds started up on campus five years ago with a mission to get students to feel comfortable with talking about mental illness and getting help for whatever might be bothering them. Group members also want students to know that mental illness doesn’t have to mean a debilitating or frightening disease that only other people have. Mental illness also includes someone coping with anxiety, an eating disorder, or depression. And there is help available that can make someone’s life so much better.
Active Minds, with its events, lectures, and a “compliments and cookies” campaign, aims to educate people on mental illness and to promote mental health. But even on an open-minded college campus, the battle is tough, says Renna, because the stigma is more prevalent.
“Everyone is trying to be perfect,” she says. Students who were once valedictorians of their class and topnotch athletes might be less willing to admit they are struggling in the pressure-cooker college environment. “They put on a front of ‘I get good grades, I am fine. There is nothing wrong.’” When a student feels like they could benefit from talking to someone or by getting help, the social attitudes they often confront can actually be a barrier to getting necessary help.
“All of us struggle, yet we tend to walk around assuming we are the only ones who are having a difficult time,” says Sabrina Rebecchi, mental health counselor at the Student Development and Counseling Center and the advisor for Active Minds. “Active Minds works to help people put down those masks and really see each other in turn creating a supportive environment.”
Sometimes, Renna says, hearing others speak makes someone feel less alone and so the “Step Inside My Head” idea came about. “I just hope people will be empowered by hearing others speak and are willing to get help,” she says. The event is timed with the Student Development and Counseling Center’s regular walk-in hours of 1–2pm, with the following days in mind. If someone decides they need help, they can take advantage of the open hours or they can call the center at 508-831-5540
Other than Step Inside My Head, Active Minds hosts several fun events that try to promote mental health. There’s a Laugh More campaign and a Stomp Out Stigma event, in which students are invited to jump on bubble wrap that covers a poster with “Stigma” printed on it. The group often holds events or campaigns during the stressful finals weeks.
Students interested in joining Active Minds can sign up by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to find out the location of the regular 4pm Thursday meetings.