By Sarah Flynn
In our society, a person’s well being only matters in terms of physical conditions, leaving those with mental health issues or illnesses unable to retrieve appropriate treatment. Statistics show that about only 40% of those with any type of mental illness in America received health services in 2018, and Active Minds is prepared to increase that number. This national organization advocates for equal care for those with mental health issues and illnesses; their mission has long been to defy these common misconceptions about mental health by spreading awareness through various groups, Worcester State University standing as the home for one of the many.
“[Mental health] is not treated as equal as it should be,” said the WSU Active Minds’ leader Jess Lloyd, a 22-year-old psychology major. “If you’re going to go the doctor because you have the flu or something and are able to get a note for class, I feel like that same parity should be applied to mental illness if you’re struggling.”
Alongside countless other events, the Worcester State chapter of Active Minds’ uses their Mental Wellness Month to effectively show students why mental health should matter to them. From representations of multiple disorders to interactive activities, four days of events helped bring attention to the importance of mental health at Worcester State University.
Mental Health Month is the official name for the 31-day series of events to show the significance of mental wellbeing in the United States, which has been observed in May since 1949. This year, the national celebration continued its theme of #4Mind4Body started in 2018 by encouraging Americans to set goals of living a healthier life. This achievement was to be addressed through small but crucial tasks, like eating two to three full meals a day or having more optimistic conversations about what one enjoys.
Active Minds reflected the messages of taking care of one’s mental health as much as their physical health in their own rendition.
The Mental Wellness Month at Worcester State was inspired by Mental Health Month, but occurred in April to get the most campus participation, which would not be as easy in May. It initially started as a Mental Wellness Week last year, and had a successful turnout that led to its expansion of being spread across the month. This change was done with the intention of communicating the effects of mental health for a longer period of time, thus educating a larger crowd about the subject.
“It’s kind of a big way of portraying mental health to a wider audience,” said the club’s treasurer, James Heydecker. “I feel like there’s only so much people we can get with just one event theme per month, whereas now we have such a variety of events throughout Mental Wellness Month.”
To start off the string of activities was the Welcome Table, where members of Active Minds sat at the Sullivan T explaining their plans for the month, as well as information regarding mental health and illnesses. Following this came the main activities, each geared towards visualizing the need to know about mental health and helping people improve their own.
April 3 was the Thumbprint Table, a short tribute available to all students. All were encouraged to stamp their thumb on a large paper in whichever color represented a mental illness that they, or someone they knew, endured. This idea was meant to allow students to anonymously show how mental disorders were a part of their lives, revealing just how many people are affected by it.
DIY Day on April 10 proved to be a highly involved activity, as it allowed attendees to create their own relaxation products. With finals week only a month away at the time, Active Minds wanted to give students the chance to get away from projects and exams and focus on taking time for themselves. Some of the creations consisted of bath bombs, zen gardens, and stress balls, which were entirely free to make and take.
Next was the White Bracelet event where students could show off their support for speaking out about mental wellness with a free bracelet or t-shirt. While each recipient was tasked with looking for one person wearing a white bracelet, the members ended up giving out bracelets of different colors, showing how mental illness exists for nearly everyone in one way or another.
To end it all was the Semi-Formal dance on April 25, one of Active Minds most anticipated celebrations. This was the second dance held by Active Minds at Worcester State, and proved to be an even bigger success than the first. The night was decorated to be an enchantment under the sea, where students danced to hand-picked playlists, ate an assortment of snacks, and captured all of their fun in a photobooth.
The Semi-Formal was a place where people could enjoy themselves without fear of judgment, as anyone could attend with any attire showing who they are.
“We were encouraging everyone to wear whatever makes them feel best, even if that’s not necessarily semi-formal clothes,” Lloyd cheerfully explained. “Just whatever boosts your self-esteem, makes you feel good about yourself.”
These events are just a part of the club’s overall goal to show how crucial it is for one to take the time to consider the effects of mental illness on campus. Active Minds has long been looking for more ways to increase awareness about mental health, and recently started a partnership with The Jed Foundation (JED), an organization that works with colleges in making programs that teach the value of knowing about mental illness, with the hope that they can ensure the production of more community activities for the future.
As of late, JED and one of the two Active Mind’s advisers, Laura Murphy, have been discussing the option of a student focus group, which would give the campus the opportunity to come and speak with the club members to open up about their personal views or experiences with mental health and mental illness.
As director of the campus Counseling Center, Murphy believes that psychology services should not be the only ones to take on responsibility of looking after students’ mental health; it needs to be a priority of groups across college campuses so students have multiple options to speak about their internal wellbeing and hear about treatment methods from different perspectives.
Across the United States there are over 450 Active Minds chapters, groups built off of the major organization at colleges, that have been helping break the stereotypes about disorders and illnesses.
The organization was created by Alison Malmon, who lost her older brother to suicide and wanted to make an outlet for people struggling with this mental disorder and others to open up about it. What started as a small collection of people at Pennsylvania University soon grew into a nationwide program, showing the significance of learning about mental health and how it affects each and every person.
“It’s important for people to understand that they are not alone and for them to find the power to self-advocate,” Lloyd described in reference to her view about the necessity of getting treatment for mental illness and improving mental health. “You know yourself better than anyone else does.”
At Worcester State, Active Minds focuses on staying informed about mental illnesses and the issues surrounding it. Their meetings consist of planning events for the school while also doing their own activities.
In one of their most recent meetings, Lloyd asked members to define stigma and the problems that arise from it, in which members would write down their responses on whiteboards. Everyone shared their opinions and learned from one another about what could be a sensitive topic for the public, but an essential one to be aware of.
Multiple studies have shown how Active Minds chapters have been increasing knowledge about mental health while decreasing the stigma about it. Furthermore, those who get involved with the club are most likely to reach out and assist students in need. To continue this outcome, the club intends to continue this new tradition of the Mental Wellness Month into the future with even more involved and informational events.
If working with others to overcome the inaccurate beliefs of mental health and illnesses is something of your interest, Active Minds is open to having more people become part of their movement towards better treatment for mental health.
Active Minds members believe that the more people who know how much of a role mental health plays in everyone’s well being, the more progress can be made towards bringing a greater number of resources for students in receiving help.
“I always feel like talking about mental health, no matter how hard it is, is ultimately for the better,” claims Heydecker. “And I feel like something that Active Minds really pushes for is starting that conversation, which is always the hardest step because just opening your mouth and talking about it is really difficult, but once you do, you just kind of can’t stop.”