With soft pop music playing in the background, members of Active Minds rolled into Jimenez Hall Oct. 6 while board members laid out coloring pages and colored pencils at a front table.
The first full week of October was Mental Illness Awareness Week, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a grassroots organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. Active Minds hosted a National Air Out Stigma event at the Hornbake Plaza earlier that Thursday, where people wrote down example phrases of mental health stigma and put them on display to present to the campus that these are the words we shouldn’t be saying to each other, Active Minds President Jaclyn Webber said.
“Active Minds is a mental health awareness, education, and advocacy organization on campus,” Webber, a senior psychology major, said. “Our main point is to break down mental health stigma and provide resources to students on campus.”
“The whole concept of advocating for mental health and awareness, it made me realize how little there is of that on campuses and how a lot of people might be struggling and not realizing what resources they have available to them, or some people might be saying stigmatizing things and not realizing what’s okay, what’s not okay, or how prevalent these problems are,” Ilana Levin, senior psychology major and the club’s vice president of internal affairs, said. “So I guess I got more involved because I thought it was really great what the club was promoting.”
“I have experienced a lot of mental health issues in my life,” sophomore English major Alexis Bates said about why she joined Active Minds. “I’ve actually just gotten out of the hospital, and I’m a strong advocate for mental health issues so I thought this would be a really good place for me to share the knowledge I have.”
For senior psychology major Udoka Ahaghotu and sophomore business major Austin Gray, their reasons for joining were also personal. They both said mental health was something close to them and their families.
“My sister deal with a lot of stuff,” Gray said. “So I know the impact it can have on people and that people need help.”
Webber believes that this club is needed at UMD because “mental illnesses are incredibly prevalent in the college population” and that the club is here to “put students in the right direction of resources and to make sure they know that seeking help is okay.”
According to National Alliance for Mental Illness, half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14; three-quarters by age 24. Despite effective treatment, there are long delays—sometimes decades—between the first appearance of symptoms and when people get help.
“I actually moved here four years ago from India, and I know how negatively people can think about mental disease and it’s really cool that a club like this is on this campus because back home I would never have a club like this,” sophomore psychology major Manda Nambiar said.
Webber said Active Minds hosts the Stress Less Week event in the spring semester, where different organizations come together to talk about mental health awareness and stressing less. They also host panels throughout the year, where students will personally share their stories of mental health and mental illness and then engage in a discussion afterward.
“I think that it would be nice if there was a bigger way to reach students like we have a bunch of bigger events, but I don’t know if people always know the meaning behind [them],” Levin said. “But I think the club does the best job that it can considering how large the student population is.”