Columns

Active Minds: Promoting mental health awareness

By
Guest Columnist
Monday, September 28, 2015

In an Aug. 31 Chronicle of Higher Education article, Robin Wilson reported on the overwhelming student demand for mental health care services faced by colleges and universities. This demand has arisen from mental health needs that Wilson labels an “epidemic of anguish” on campuses across the county. The Active Minds chapter at Brown is committed to being a part the solution to this epidemic.

Active Minds is a national organization devoted to promoting mental health awareness and education on college campuses. Its mission and objectives are relevant to all college students and personnel. As Alison Malmon, the founder and executive director of Active Minds, has noted, “Not everyone has mental illness, but everyone has mental health.” Though Active Minds was organized more than a decade ago, Brown’s chapter was not founded until 2012, when Julia Lynford ’14 and Samantha English ’14 recognized the need for greater mental health awareness and information within the Brown community. Since 2012, the Brown chapter has grown significantly and now offers numerous initiatives and programs to increase and promote discussion about mental health.

College years are a critical time for these discussions. The college experience presents numerous challenges, many of which are unanticipated or at least underestimated by students. Homesickness, academic demands and choices, social pressures and independent living adjustments are a just few of those challenges. While some students readily adapt to and effectively manage such stressors, statistics demonstrate that many require help and support.

Half of all serious adult psychiatric illnesses — including major depression, anxiety disorders and substance abuse — start by 14 years of age, and three-fourths of them are present by 25 years of age. Compared to older adults, the 18- to 24-year-old age group seeks help least frequently. Almost one-third of all college students report having felt so depressed that they had trouble functioning. More than 80 percent of college students felt overwhelmed by all they had to do in the past year, and 45 percent have felt things were hopeless. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students, claiming the lives of 1,100 students each year. More than half of college students have had suicidal thoughts, and one in 10 students seriously consider attempting suicide. Eighty to 90 percent of college students who died by suicide were not receiving help from their college counseling centers.

These statistics further demonstrate how crucial it is that colleges and universities create an environment where students are comfortable seeking help when they need it. The primary goal of Active Minds at Brown is to help create this climate on our campus.

Active Minds hosts a variety of mental health-related events throughout the academic year. Each semester, the group organizes two “safe space” discussions, during which the student body is invited to engage in a facilitated discussion about a mental health topic. Past topics include happiness at Brown, confronting negative attitudes towards mental illness, anxiety, depression, eating disorders and body image and mental illness as portrayed in the media. A psychotherapist from Counseling and Psychological Services is always present at the discussions to provide support to students if necessary.

Active Minds also brings mental health speakers to campus, facilitates panel discussions and conducts workshops. A few of our highly impactful events from the past academic year include a panel discussion on eating disorders and college culture featuring Erin Lane-Aaronian, a psychotherapist at CAPS, and Abigal Donaldson and Margaret Mannix of the local Providence community, as well as an expressive art workshop and lecture by Amy Kinney of PeaceLove Studios. Active Minds also organizes events aimed at helping students “stress less” and engage in self-care activities. For example, we are well-known for our stress ball making activity held each semester on the Main Green.

Ultimately, Active Minds believes mental health is a topic of great importance to address on college campuses. Brown’s chapter consists of passionate and enthusiastic members who hold this belief and are dedicated to promoting mental health awareness on our campus. When asked about her experience with Brown Active Minds, member Jana Foxe ’16 responded, “Active Minds places a lot of emphasis on the fact that it is not a support group. However, it is a group of wonderfully supportive people who have an intricate understanding of the frustrations that a person with mental health issues experiences at Brown. Because of Active Minds I find myself surrounded by a network of fellow Brown students who have become a greater resource than I could have imagined at Brown.” We encourage all students to join us in our continuing effort to establish a positive and accepting climate surrounding mental health at Brown.

Further information about Active Minds can be found through Eliza Lanzillo ’16 at eliza_lanzillo@brown.edu.