“On average between a third and a half of people throughout their lifetime will experience mental illness in the United States of America,” said Michelle Miller, Allegheny College counselor and Active Minds advisor, “and so everybody by the end of their will lifetime will know somebody who has experienced mental illness or have experienced it themselves.”
Active Minds is a non-profit organization dedicated to changing the conversation about mental health and has recently established a chapter at Allegheny College. Lydia Jones, president and founder of Allegheny’s chapter, discovered the Active Minds organization this past summer.
“Last year I was thinking about how we don’t really talk about mental health issue on campus and I just kind of was surfing the web and I found a national organization called Active Minds, and I thought it would be a really good thing to start,” said Jones.
Established as a non-profit in 2003, Active Minds became a nationally recognized organization not long afterwards. Allison Malmon founded the club her junior year of college at the University of Pennsylvania, in response to her brother’s suicide in 2000.
Malmon felt students were not recognizing mental health issues that affect so many college students and take so many lives. She wanted to combat the stigmas surrounding mental illness and encourage students to seek help.
According to Allegheny College statistics, the most prevalent examples of mental illness on campus are depression and anxiety, but other examples of mental illness include anorexia, bulimia, addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia.
“There are a lot of college students and people in general that are suffering from mental illnesses who feel like they might not get the resources they need because of the sigma surrounding mental health,” said Jones. “So since it’s such a large population of college students we want to make sure they have a voice.”
In the 2013 fall semester, 273 students were served at the counseling center and 559 students were served in the 2013 calendar year. More than one-third of students use the counseling center before graduation, according to recent Allegheny statistics.
Generally, mental illness is not a topic commonly discussed among Western cultures and college students, in particular. According to the Active Minds website, it is the “lack of education and an unnecessary shame that surrounds the issues, mental health is not discussed and too many students are suffering in silence.”
“I think it is such a difficult conversation because of the stigma that exists that people think of mental illness as something that is negative as opposed to something that is comparative to a physical illness,” said Miller.
Being a liberal arts school, Allegheny College often provides avenues for these difficult topics, as seen with speakers and events brought to campus.
“I think our campus has a lot of really good conversations going on about a lot of issues that are stigmatized or not really talked about and mental health needs to be one of them so people can understand what so many college students are going through,” said Jones. “It’s really important to me that mental illness is seen as an illness and not a weakness.”
The Active Minds chapter on Allegheny’s campus focuses on spreading awareness of mental health stigmas throughout the community.
“I’m involved in Active Minds because everyone has experienced the effects of mental illness in some way, and the stigma behind these diseases and disorders is still so great,” said Suzanna Kearns, vice president of Allegheny’s Active Minds chapter. “I wanted to be a part of the effort to break down these misconceptions and help build awareness.”
Active Minds has a late-night event planned for the end of February and is also working towards bringing speakers to campus and including mental health awareness in the classroom. The club is working with Joseph DiChristina, Dean of Students, to include mental illness in professors’ syllabuses. The goal is to help students feel comfortable talking to professors about mental health.
“If a student has to miss class because they’re depressed, they’re not going to email their professor and say that,” said Jones. “They’re going to say that they’re sick or that they have to go to the health center because they’re throwing up.”
Students are always encouraged to reach out, seek support and visit the counseling center in Reis Hall.
“A lot of people we’ve talked to in the club don’t even know where the counseling center is, so that’s something we’re trying to change because if you don’t know where it is it’s not something that’s on your radar if you need it,” said Jones.
To get involved in Active Minds on campus, contact Lydia Jones at [email protected] Meetings are held weekly in the campus center at 9 p.m. on Mondays.