“Mad Hatter” Perpetuates Stigma around Mental Illness


hand-sign-for-red-carpetThis post speaks candidly about the portrayal of mental illness in popular media and includes stigmatizing language and descriptions to help inform readers about the topic.  

In recent years discussion about mental health and awareness about mental illness has been on the rise. The conversation has even found its way into pop culture with musical artists like Sia. However, mental illness still remains a popular trope in pop music, as seen in Melanie Martinez’s new song “Mad Hatter” off her new album Cry Baby. While the song is meant to be Cry Baby’s acceptance of her madness, it instead perpetuates many stereotypes about mental illness.

It plays on the concept of sanity, with its opening notes conjuring up images of an asylum. At its core, the song creates a distinction between those that are “normal” and those that live with a mental health condition, saying “The normal, they make me afraid. The crazies, they make me feel sane.” This is detrimental to the many advocacy efforts that assert that people who live with mental illness are just like everyone else. Calling those with mental health conditions “crazy” perpetuates the stigma surrounding mental illness.

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Life is not a Trajectory


This morning, as I sat down at my brand new cubicle here at the Active Minds National Headquarters, I realized that I forgot my mug in the lobby of my apartment building. I quickly texted my mom to see if she could grab it for me. She replied that she could, and I started to go on with my day. But out of nowhere, it hit me. I couldn’t help but let myself cry as I recalled this same day one year ago.

I was feverishly writing every thought that raced through my mind into a hand-made journal. I had found the journal in Camden Market only a few months before while adventuring in Europe. I bought it in the hopes of writing some of my best journal entries and poems, but had been waiting for the inspiration to come for a few months. Right then seemed like the perfect time. I was seated in a manila folder colored room that felt much too brisk for comfort. In that room sat my mother, sister, my aunt, my uncle, and an intimidating, but kind doctor. An Oncologist, if I’m going to be more exact.

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Send Silence Packing: Becoming My Own Hero


collageI’ve never identified as a maker. I don’t bake, I’ve never built a house, and I’m not dedicated to any particular form of art. My professional career has consisted of positions in which I’ve helped, organized, cared for, coordinated, scheduled, planned, listened, attended meetings, and ultimately had no tangible product to show for all my work. And yet I’m drawn to watching countless episodes of Food Network and HGTV shows, where charismatic TV personalities use their hands to create beautiful houses or mouth-watering dishes in the span of 30 minutes.  It’s incredible, and Chip and Jo from Fixer Upper are pretty much #relationshipgoals.

Although I’ve never been a “maker” I deeply admire those who are. My partner, Olivia, is an artist. I marvel at her creativity and her commitment to bringing beauty into this world. She does so in incredibly simple ways but they always leave me awestruck. Oftentimes I would think to myself, “I wish i could do that” as she whipped out a masterful watercolor over an afternoon in the park.

Before leaving for the SSP tour I asked myself “What’s stopping you?” My answers came from a place of fear and self judgement. “That’s her thing” and “You’re not even good at painting.” As the trip’s start date drew closer I continued to dwell on my secret desire to paint. Eventually (with some help) I was able to stifle that little voice telling me I was a fraud and painted my first watercolor.


It’s now day 44 of our 73 day tour and I’ve finished 10 paintings. I was utterly self-conscious at first.  I felt like I was impersonating an artist and trying to be something I’m not. But I enjoyed the mental solitude that painting allows for.  The intense focus I have while painting leads me to a sense of peace. It is that feeling that keeps me painting and quiets my doubts.  Now when I finish a painting I can’t wait to show it off! I’m so proud of myself! I feel like a little kid whose drawing just make it onto the coveted refrigerator gallery space. With each painting I understand the medium better and feel my confidence grow.


It’s exhilarating to realize that I can attempt any small thing I admire in other people.  That goes for you too! If you think it’s cool that someone journals daily, wears fedoras, or carries a travel watercolor set, then what’s stopping you from trying it out yourself? It was only my own insecurities and ideas of ownership that held me back from trying something new.  In reality, there’s nothing stopping me from taking up a new hobby, experimenting with my style, or changing my ways.


Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that we all start impersonating our favorite celebrities and take on a Mr. Ripley brand of lifestyle. But if you’ve ever wanted to take a yoga class and didn’t because you thought you wouldn’t fit in with the bendy, zen goddesses who have been going for years, I implore you to reconsider.  We are not old dogs, we can learn new tricks. We can continue to explore new skills and remain true to ourselves at the same time.  Olivia does not own water-coloring on a park bench and neither do I.  It all starts with being kind to ourselves, which I know is by no means easy. But over the past few weeks, by letting myself emulate someone I admire I ended up becoming my own hero.



Welcome to Wentworth Miller, Active Minds Ambassador



Our office manager brought the staff meeting to a complete stop when he looked at his laptop and said, “We just got an email from Wentworth Miller.”

Stunned silence. Is it spam?

No, it looks legit.

And that’s when the energy in the room went sky high!

For several months, many of us had been following Wentworth from afar. We admired him then, as we do now, for his candor and commitment to using his experiences and celebrity to help change the conversation about mental health.

It has been a privilege to get to know the actor and screenwriter, and learn even more about his passion for suicide prevention and mental health awareness. And it is a true honor today to announce Wentworth Miller as Active Minds’ Ambassador for Mental Health.

His interest and dedication of time and energy is rooted in a deep, authentic commitment to fighting the stigma that surrounds mental health issues. As he told us:

“As someone who knows what it’s like to struggle with depression, I want to help give voice to the many people living with mental health issues. I want to help assure them that they’re not alone. These issues can be hard to discuss. It can be hard to start the conversation. So letting people know that it’s okay to ask for help is extremely important.

“I’m really proud to be part of the Active Minds’ movement for change, especially because college was a difficult time for me. This organization does so much for students, and that kind of work is close to my heart.”

We look forward to working alongside Wentworth Miller on our shared cause, in partnership with the more than 12,000 student members and the thousands of community supporters across the country who are at the heart of the Active Minds movement.

A warm welcome to you, #StigmaFighter!

Alison Malmon
Founder and Executive Director
Active Minds

» Read the press release here.

Call for Proposals is OPEN! – Emerging Scholars Fellowship


Have you ever considered conducting your own research on a topic related to mental and/or behavioral health? Maybe you’ve caught yourself daydreaming about investigating how a certain population interacts with mental illness, or how college students utilize social networks as a coping mechanism, or maybe you’re interested in finding out more about the relationship between gender or race and anxiety. Mental and behavioral health are such vast fields with a wealth of potential for new and innovative research.

If any of this sounds familiar or intriguing to you, you might be a great candidate for the Active Minds Emerging Scholars Fellowship. The Emerging Scholars Fellowship is a grant-funded research fellowship opportunity open to any currently enrolled undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral student interested in conducting their own research or creative project related to mental and/or behavioral health.

The Call for Proposals is NOW OPEN, and applications will be accepted until 9:00pm on Sunday, December 11, 2016. The Fellowship is an opportunity for students to complete funded independent mental health projects, and to be connected to a network of other incredible young scholars and national experts in the field of behavioral health. Our goal is to expand the body of literature, creative expression, and discourse devoted to mental health, and we want YOU to contribute your vision to that goal!

The Emerging Scholars Fellowship funds six months of independent research with a public dissemination component, and runs from January 2017 through June 2017. Apply online today!

Interested in learning more about the Fellowship? Visit our website online at http://scholars.activeminds.org/, and learn more about all of our previous scholar cohorts. You may also email Emily Armstrong, Program Coordinator, at emily@activeminds.org for further questions.
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Learning to Let Go


This post was written by Stacy Pershall, a member of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau who speaks to schools and groups nationwide about mental health and eating disorders.

The place: Prairie Grove, Arkansas.  The year: 1985.  The setting: a bedroom closet with burnt-orange carpet and a brown slatted door.  The protagonist, who’s also the antagonist: me, age 14.

The supporting (or not-so-supporting) characters: the boy who used to call me a dog, but now just stands in front of my locker every morning and barks at me while his friends laugh.  The boyfriend who just broke up with me because, despite the fact that I don’t feel worthy of eating, I’m still not skinny enough. The cheerleaders in my all-white school, who think it’s an insult to say, “Gosh, Stacy, if your nose and lips were any bigger, you’d be black.

By the time I was in high school, I’d let them fill my brain.  I no longer had any idea who I really was; they told me now. And so, in deference to them, I hid in my closet and sat on my shoes and wrote their insults on my skin with a Sharpie.  DOG, I’d write across my face – I’d done it so many times I didn’t need a mirror anymore.  Sometimes, when I was so hungry nausea took over, I’d allow myself to get down on my hands and knees and eat food out of a bowl on the floor.  Then I’d pray for forgiveness for thinking my stomach deserved to be filled like other people’s.

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Announcing the Winners of the Kognito Challenge!



Congratulations to the entire Active Minds chapter network for stepping up to the Kognito Challenge! Together, 97 participating schools reached more than 3,000 people in just four weeks via Kognito’s At-Risk for College Students mental health simulation, which was available for free to all schools with Active Minds chapters until Sunday, October 9.

Now that the competition has come to an end, it’s time to announce the winners!

20 schools completed the full Challenge, each training at least 50 students plus their Active Minds chapter advisor or Counseling Center Director. Each of those schools (see schools in bold type on the official Challenge Leaderboard) earned a $250 credit toward their annual national fundraising goal for mental health awareness and the Active Minds movement.

The following three schools trained THE MOST people overall and have earned an additional fundraising credit:

  • The University of Texas at San Antonio trained 286 people.
  • Saint Cloud State University (Saint Cloud, MN) trained 222 people.
  • Stockton University (Pomona, NJ) trained 212 people.

“We already sense a difference in the campus climate towards mental health,” said UT San Antonio Chapter President Melina Acosta. “At least four instructors with multiple classes of 100+ offered extra credit to students who completed the challenge. We were also very plugged into the Student Government Association, so we were able to share the challenge with more student leaders on campus this go-around. Overall, networking with students and faculty and incentivizing the challenge really seemed to pay off.”

Remarkably, the top three schools represent a diverse range in terms of the total number of students enrolled, and school size did not seem to impact the results of the competition. Active Minds at Stockton University alone reached more than 2.5% of their campus through the Challenge!

Each of the top ten schools trained more than 90 people each on their campuses. Those schools include:

  • Northeastern University (Boston, MA) – trained 191 people
  • University of Northern Iowa (Cedar Falls, IA) – trained 171 people
  • University of North Carolina at Asheville – trained 121 people
  • Austin Peay State University (Clarksville, TN) – trained 118 people
  • University of South Alabama (Mobile, AL) – trained 118 people
  • Coppin State University (Baltimore, MD) – trained 98 people
  • University of Memphis (Memphis, TN) – trained 94 people

Active Minds chapters had a great time participating in the Challenge and reported incredible impact on their campuses.

“We have loved this challenge! It fit perfectly into our Suicide Prevention efforts,” said Nathan Morell, Active Minds staff advisor at Stockton University. “We made it a mandatory part of our depression screener training as well as (with support from res life) had most of our RA’s take it.”

Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN, home to many military families stationed or retired from Fort Campbell, KY, also reported great success.

“Our veterans, reserve, national guard, ROTC, and Active Duty students enjoyed the Kognito Challenge and gained at of understanding and education from it,” said Chapter President Lauren Schores. “We networked [with] psychology, sociology, social work, and pre-professional health students.  We also spoke with peer mentoring, housing, disability services, and student life and engagement.”

Participants in the course completed a pre- and post-survey indicating their readiness to help a friend in distress. Percentage changes in the survey data will be provided to each school with at least 50 participants.

How to Earn a Second Fundraising Reward

Schools can now receive a second fundraising incentive by helping their school
leadership implement Kognito’s At-Risk simulations campus-wide. As an on-campus leader for mental health, you’re in a strong position to help your school understand the benefits and impact of Kognito’s At-Risk simulations as a frontline solution for improving emotional health..

Any chapter who successfully approaches their campus administration and gets them
to request a written pricing proposal for their school will receive an additional
award toward their chapter fundraising goal.

We will be talking to you more about how to earn this incentive in the coming weeks. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to reach out to Kognito at info@kognito.com. We are excited to host Kognito as a sponsor at the national conference in November and we look forward to seeing you there.

Thank You to Our 2016 Casino Night DC Sponsors



Over the weekend, #StigmaFighters joined together at Active Minds’ Annual DC Casino Night. This spectacular event would not be possible without the support of our dedicated sponsors, who are truly going all in to support college student mental health awareness.

I want to send a big thank you to the following Corporate & Individual for help making this event a reality:






Melissa & Bradley Blanken

Antoinette & Dwight Bush

Ronya Corey & Merrill Lynch

Kim & John Cutler

Paul Di Vito & John Silvia

Ginny Feldman & Andy Wohl

Leslie & John Friedson

Julie & Marc Kantor

William J. Lammers

Charla & Steven Lerman

Karen & Bruce Levenson


Tishman Speyer

This event would also not be possible without our dedicated Host Committee. Special thanks to these fine folks:


#ReasonsISpeak: Your voice is your power



Every September we honor Suicide Prevention Month with the #ReasonsISpeak campaign on social media.

Thank you for another successful campaign, and for helping us share with the world the reasons we speak about mental health and suicide. Your voice is your power, and every story shared helps reduce the stigma around mental health issues.

Below are some of our favorite #ReasonsISpeak posts. We were so moved by all of your responses. <3

Active Minds at Catholic University of America share the reasons they speak in this video!



Because I would’ve missed all of this… #reasonsispeak #stopthestigma #nationalsuicidepreventionmonth #itsokaynottobeokay #activeminds


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"Why do you speak about suicide?" I look back at that period of my life with regret, knowing that I wasted more than 1 year of my life giving up on myself. But I also look back at that time with gratitude and pride-- Because I survived. Because I'm still here. Alive. Today I speak about suicide to help end the shame and the silent. To give a voice to those who are struggling too much to ask for help. To let them know that it's okay to make mistakes and not be perfect. To tell all those who are struggling that: You are not alone.

“Why do you speak about suicide?” I look back at that period of my life with regret, knowing that I wasted more than 1 year of my life giving up on myself. But I also look back at that time with gratitude and pride–
Because I survived.
Because I’m still here. Alive.
Today I speak about suicide to help end the shame and the silent.
To give a voice to those who are struggling too much to ask for help.
To let them know that it’s okay to make mistakes and not be perfect.
To tell all those who are struggling that:
You are not alone.

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Why NDWS is the Most Important Day of the Year


Sure, National Day Without Stigma is sometimes regarded as the nerdy cousin of the uber popular Stress Less Week, but that doesn’t mean it’s less important. Thoughtful programming during NDWS can set you up for an entire year’s worth of outstanding impact on campus.

It sets the stage. Everything you’ll do for the rest of the year–every program, every tabling event–will be rooted in the messages of NDWS. Stigma and discrimination are harmful, silencing epidemics that cause people to shut down and remain silent, and that silence can have devastating impacts for all of us. NDWS is your chance to make the case for speaking up.


It opens the door to help-seeking. Not only can your chapter use NDWS as a launching pad to talk about help-seeking throughout the year, but the Counselors Out of the Center activity humanizes the act of help-seeking. Invite your counselors to the student union, dining hall, or other gathering place on campus to get them out and meeting students as people, not just counselors.

Chris Traeger from Parks & Rec:

It’s an opportunity for positivity. Each message you draw for Chalk Out Stigma (or flyer-out stigma if chalking is a no-no on campus) will be positive and empowering. Let people know they matter, their lives matter, and that they have the support of the community.

Positive bunny says: Whenever you are struggling, remember the times you have succeeded and survived, and know that you can make it through.

It opens up conversations. National Day Without Stigma is your opportunity to speak up and provoke debate about the discrimination and injustice you see around mental health, both on campus and in the wider society. This is a time to have meaningful conversations about what it means when people mock the mentally ill, why language is important, and how to recognize the safe, understanding people to talk to.

It connects you to the Active Minds Movement. NDWS is celebrating its 10th anniversary this fall! Join hundreds of other chapters across the country and throughout the last decade who carry the work of NDWS forward year after year.