Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Active Minds strives to start conversation about mental health, end stigma

(Robert Rigo/ Daily Collegian)

Activism isn’t always about pushing for policy changes or fighting with University of Massachusetts administration. Active Minds, a campus organization that began in the fall of 2011, knows that activism can be as simple as educating the community.

Active Minds strives to stimulate a positive conversation about mental health by reducing stigma and providing community awareness.

“The conversation doesn’t even need to change, it needs to start,” said James Michaels, president of the Active Minds UMass chapter. “[This organization] is made up of people who are really trying to be conscientious about mental health and make a big difference.”

Emily Dykstra, vice president and a junior microbiology major, said the group is one of the select outlets on campus to talk about mental health.

“I can’t think of another place where you can openly talk about mental health issues,” she said. “You’re surrounded by people that aren’t judgmental about it, making an effort to change how people view mental illness. We want to fix the negative associates and stereotypes.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental illness. In addition, more than 25 percent of college students have been diagnosed or treated by a professional for a mental health condition within the past year.

With these numbers growing, outlets like Active Minds consider accessibility to UMass students necessary.

Active Minds has partnered with different organizations on campus and in the Pioneer Valley community to continue the education. They have worked with organizations such as the Meditation Club, Men in Masculinities Center and ENOUGH, a mental health organization with the purpose of increasing self-esteem and body acceptance while also creating a campus environment that is more accepting of differences.

Active Minds also has a dedicated position for a Center for Counseling and Psychological Health liaison for those that come to meetings looking for professional support.

“We try to act as a bridge and have resources and emphasize how important it is to each out for health,” Dykstra said.

Active Minds also hosts many events throughout the year to educate those who don’t attend meetings. They speak out for National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, hold speaker discussion panels and educate about the intersections between the LGBTQ community and mental health.

Every fall semester, Active Minds informs stigmas of mental illness through their “stigma tree,” where people hang paper leaves that contain a positive message to anyone struggling with mental illness, a personal anecdote of their experience with stigma or a thought about wellness that are then stuck on to the large tree near Bartlett Hall.

“The whole community is part of this same thing,” Michaels said. “It made me feel less alone. Even if people are not talking face-to-face, it gives a message about stigma.”

On April 30 Active Minds will also host an “Out of the Darkness Walk,” to raise awareness and funds to fight suicide and create visibility for the community.

Michaels and Dysktra stress that students can join meetings any time during the year. The group meets every other Wednesday at 7 p.m. and details can be found on their Facebook page “Active Minds UMass Chapter” and on Campus Pulse.

Michaels emphasized that stigma needs to be destroyed: “We are trying to fill the vacuum of silence about mental health, and it takes one person at a time to break it down.”

Devyn Giannetti can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Devyn_Giannetti.

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    Harold A. MaioMar 28, 2017 at 10:36 pm

    —–Active Minds strives to start conversation about mental health, end stigma

    What is most interesting is that they have been taught there is one.

    Where do we learn our prejudices? I guess there is no one answer to that.

    Harold A. Maio, retired mental health editor