Maggie Bertram – Active Minds Blog Changing the conversation about mental health Mon, 10 Jul 2017 17:03:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Krystal Murillo’s Legacy at Mt. San Jacinto is Set Fri, 30 Jun 2017 15:39:53 +0000 Krystal Murillo is a student and Active Minds Chapter Member at Mount San Jacinto College in Menifee, California. Over the last year, Krystal has been successful in advocating for the addition of a health center to her campus.

In the post below, we feature excerpts of a conversation between Krystal and Active Minds Associate Director of Training and Education, Maggie Bertram. To hear the audio version of this story, you can head over to the Active Minds SoundCloud page.

Maggie Bertram: Why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got involved with Active Minds?

Krystal Murillo: So, I am hopefully within my last year at a community college. I was a transfer student. I was new. And I remember I was in my psychology class, actually, and I had someone come and ask me, like, “do you—you know—are your part of any clubs?” And I remember being like, “Well, no, but I want to check out the Psychology Club. Um, ‘cause, you know I’m really into mental health and, you know, learning more, and getting involved.” And this person was like, “Well, have you heard of Active Minds?” And I was like, “No, actually. What do you do?” They were getting ready to have all the volunteers [at Send Silence Packing], and that right away caught my attention, so I just stuck with it.

MB: You mention advocacy, and that’s originally why we got connected was to talk about this huge advocacy effort that you’ve been successful in. Do you want to tell me a little bit more about that?

KM: So, the idea to get a health center on MSJC actually originated from past colleges I had attended. I attended two previous colleges before transferring. And just for me, personally, I wanted to make the transition smoother by talking to someone and reaching out. So I remember going on campus and asking students, you know, “Where’s the health center?” And some were like, “I don’t know, actually,” and I was like, “Ok, you know. Whatever. Sometimes you just don’t know where things are. And I remember going [to ask] another student, and I was like, “Where’s the health center?” And they were like, “Oh, do you mean the nursing building?” And I was like, “Yeah, if that’s where your health center’s at.”

Um, and I went in and they were like, “Oh, this is only for nursing students.” And I was like, “Oh, so you don’t actually have a nurse, or maybe like a counselor, or anything like that?” And they were like, “You know, I don’t even think we do!” And I was like, “Oh. OK—cool.” So, I kind of walked away with like—what do I do? You know? Like, who do I talk to–to make it better?

MB: So from those initial conversations where you established that there really wasn’t a health center, what did you do next in order to get people’s attention?

KM: I was pretty clear to both my English professor and my psychology professor. I was like: I think it’s something we need. And they highly agreed. And, um, so they were like, “You know what? Let’s do something about that.” And I was like, “Yeah! Help me!” So it was really cool to have that resource and use them as far as them connecting with other people.

And I remember it was during office hours with my psych professor, and was like, “You know, I’m going to shoot everyone an email and just say: this is what we’re thinking, who’s on board? Let’s make it happen.” And I was like, “Ok,” you know. I thought it was no big deal, but then I realized he meant, like, the entire school as far as faculty. So, he got a lot of great responses, and then we, you know, we didn’t know how to go about this, of course. Um, so we created a committee who agreed that we needed it, which included different instructors, different deans from all departments. Um, so just a lot of great teamwork put it together, reached out to the vice president for student services who was like, “You know what? Let’s do this,” and we headed into it.

It started with small meetings once or twice a month. It was just a group of us in a room talking about: What do we do? How do we get this started? You know, we sort of formulated a plan as to what I can do as far as students, and I researched other colleges that have health centers and their resources. And I remember putting together a survey just to see the need and demand for [the health center]. We got someone from the research part of the school to distribute the surveys out to students who then took the survey and listed exactly the services they wanted to see. Um, and then we went ahead and hired a consultant, I believe. Her and her husband came and they were really good about helping us financially establish, you know, how much things are going to cost, how to get different equipment, and things like that. How to go about hiring.

As we got all that and kind of got our ideas straight, we had to present to the board of trustees for the school. So, you know and I spoke and basically said again my reason for wanting this and how important it was.

MB: You must have done a lot of research in order to track down everything that peer institutions were doing, and, like you said, how much everything costs, and getting the consultant in there. That must have been quite a process on top of all the school work you were already doing.

KM: It was definitely worth it. I felt motivated and driven to do it. I didn’t see it as, like, “Oh, gosh. This is one more thing I have to do.” I thought, “This is exciting! This is going to be really good if this could actually happen.” Even if I don’t get to experience having the health center there, I’m excited that other students who are coming get to.

One of my mentors I have who I work for now in the counseling department—at the start of this I was like, “Well, where do you—how do you even start this? What do you do?” And I remember her telling me, “You’re a student and only you can make a difference. You and other students are the only ones who can make this happen because if we say anything, it’s not going to be as impactful because we’re not students. You guys need to be insisting on any issue and making it happen.

MB: What advice would you give students who are preparing to do something like that?

KM: Um, to be honest, you know I would say find a level of support whether that’s with peers, families, instructors—anybody. Definitely have a support system and just, you know, be confident and remember what you want as far as like why it’s so important for you to get something done. And just speak out and voice your opinion over it.

If you’re interested in making significant change on your campus like Krystal did, go to to access Transform Your Campus. There you’ll find resources to aid your advocacy efforts, including our featured campaigns on ID cards, orientation programming, and leave of absence policies.

Am I Coming Over with My Camera? Mon, 12 Jun 2017 13:02:30 +0000 I had the great pleasure of sitting down with Shaleece Haas, director of the film Real Boy, which will make its television debut on PBS  on June 19th and will remain available on for the remainder of the month. Real Boy follows the transition of a young trans man, Bennett Wallace, as he navigates the intersectionality of gender identity, substance use disorder recovery, and relationships. The transcript below is just a portion of a longer interview that you can hear on the Active Minds SoundCloud page.

Maggie Bertram: How do you go about choosing your projects?

Shaleece Haas: Sometimes I choose my projects and sometimes they choose me. Real Boy didn’t start out as the film you now see. The central protagonist in the film, Bennett Wallace, was 19 when I met him. He had just come out to his family as trans and was having a really hard time at home. Shortly after he met Joe Stevens, a beloved trans musician, at a conference for sober youth, I met him at a house concert where Joe was playing. I was really struck by his music and his lyrics. In some ways the film grew and evolved over time. It wasn’t so much that I set out to make this film as that I found people and moments that I was intrigued by and drawn to. I asked if I could film with them. They said, “yes.” And four years later we had a film.

MB: It sounds like it requires a great deal of vulnerability on your part as well as your subjects’.

SH: I think that’s true. Because it’s certainly not fair to ask people who have said, “Yes, you can film me,” to be open, to be vulnerable, to be accessible, if I’m also not available to do that.

MB: Has that ever bitten back on you a little bit?

SH: [Laughs] It was certainly hard. Making this film wasn’t just about figuring out how to tell the story—what’s the beginning, middle, and end, and raising the funds, and all of that. It was also navigating my personal relationships. I am very close with everyone in the film and I had to figure out when I was wearing my “friend hat” and when I was wearing my “director hat.” And could they be the same thing? And there were a lot of times when I had to really think, “Okay, in this moment am I coming over with my camera? Am I coming over without my camera?” And asking, “Can I come film with you even though this is a really rough moment for you?” But there were other moments where I would put the camera down, and I was just there to be a friend.

MB: So, you’re going to be reaching a much more expansive audience with this version of the film, and I guess I’m wondering what you hope audiences—especially during Pride Month—are going to take away from the film.

SH: That’s a good question and also a difficult one, because I think what someone takes away from the film is so personal and so particular to their own experience. I certainly hope that a lot of people will watch it. And since it will be on PBS and available to anybody who has a television, I hope we reach people who don’t think they need to watch a film about a young trans musician and his relationship with his family. I hope as they’re flipping through channels looking for something to watch, they’ll stumble upon the film and something they see will encourage them to keep watching.

Visibility is not everything. The path to eliminate transphobia from the world and create a safe, inclusive, healthy world for people of all genders requires a lot more than just a bunch of TV shows and documentaries. But I do think that if people see stories that make them really feel something—and then they get up the next morning and have a conversation with their spouse, or their child, or their best friend…or they decide to read the next article that comes out about the topic…and then they think a little more deeply when it comes time to vote at the PTA to create trans inclusive policies at their school—then, we’ve done something.

Hear more of my interview with Shaleece, including a call for you all to be in touch with your reactions to the film, on the Active Minds Sound Cloud page.

You can find out more about Real Boy, watch the trailer, and find out if there are any upcoming screenings in your area by going to

What Mental Health Month Means to Us Fri, 05 May 2017 15:10:45 +0000 If you’re reading this blog right now, then you are probably on at least one mental health organization’s email list and have been receiving reminders that May is Mental Health Month.

Now, let’s step back. How great is this? A topic so many people avoid talking about, avoid thinking about, avoid caring about takes center stage this month. As a community of advocates, we have a platform to talk about all the ways in which people are able to preserve their mental health, seek help when they’re struggling, and advocate for changes in our mental health care system. Additionally, those of us who struggle, are in long-term recovery, are suicide attempt survivors, or are survivors of a loved one’s suicide are reminded that we’re not alone, we matter, and we can make a difference.

I asked some of our Student Advisory Committee members what Mental Health Month means to them, and this is what they had to say:

I think having a huge event like this is amazing. Having a month dedicated to a cause brings it attention and gets a conversation going. Personally, it has also opened up my eyes to showing I am not so alone in my mental health advocacy or my mental health struggles. I am incredibly thankful for SAC and the times I have been able to talk to people throughout the nation on what we all can do. It’s also very inspirational to hear what other people are doing in the name of mental health nationwide. – Nycole Fassbender, SAC President and member of Active Minds at Marquette University

National observation for Mental Health Month means letting everyone know that mental health is for everyone. There is no shame in seeking and asking for help. It serves as a reminder for us to continue to be there for our loved ones who are suffering with a mental illness and for ourselves to keep practicing self-care. Remember mental health is just as important as physical health! – Raquel Sosa, SAC member and member of Active Minds at East Stroudsburg University

What I think is great about Mental Health Awareness Month, and any other awareness week or month for that matter, is that there is a certain amount of power in having one agreed upon period of time in which, more than any other time of year, you can see advocates being motivated to get their message out there and share in common goals and share the work, and this not only increases visibility for a cause but also strengthens the community of advocates and people who care about the cause. – Russell Fascione, SAC Member and member of Active Minds at University of Maine

If you’re interested in taking action this month, check out our programming at, and tune into our friends at Art With Impact. They’re producing some great content this month, too!

Tune in For Laughs: Staff Picks Wed, 19 Apr 2017 15:12:19 +0000 Stress management is important, and we here at the Active Minds National Office have a bunch of different ways we prioritize it. Some of us like to go to the gym, take walks, meditate, do yoga, hang out with friends, go hear live music, cook, bake, or toss stress balls at each other from across the room.

But there’s one thing nearly all of us agree makes us laugh more and stress less: sitcoms.

Here’s a list of our favorite 30-minute format, laughtastic, sitcoms of all time.

Nate, Spring 2017 Operations Intern: Bob’s Burgers
It’s all about a family that is a little odd but is ultimately very kind and good natured. It’s hilarious, and acceptable for most age groups. You can find Bob’s on Fox, Netflix, and Hulu.

Louise Belcher Gif

Maggie, Associate Director of Training and Education: Please Like Me
If you like a hint of drama with your comedy, then Please Like Me is probably right up your alley. I fell in love with this Australian show right out of the gate, and its mental health plot points are realistic, compassionate, and strong. But honestly, it’s not the mental health storylines that kept me watching through the four seasons. The show makes me laugh out loud–even when I’m alone. Comedian Josh Thomas and his crew have written sarcastic, slightly cynical, definitely self-deprecating characters whose primary combined superpower is love. Please Like Me is available on Hulu.

Laura Horne, Interim Director of Programs: Seinfeld and New Girl
Seinfeld and New Girl (a present-day Seinfeld, if you will) are for folks who get a laugh from quirky friends, awkward situations, and discussing everyday yet unnamed phenomena (i.e. the “close-talker,” the “shusher,” and the “bronemy”). Find Seinfeld on Hulu and New Girl on Hulu or Amazon.


Emily Armstrong, Program Coordinator: Parks and Recreation
I could watch this show a thousand times and it would still make me laugh. The motley crew of characters, combined with perfectly timed humor and endearing personalities make it an all-around feel good show, sure to boost my mood every time. And let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want a Leslie Knope/Ann Perkins friendship? Parks and Rec is all over the various streaming services.

Parks and Rec Gif

Lee Ann Gardner, Director of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau: Community
Great ensemble cast, spot-on writing and interesting story lines that take viewers from common, everyday community college issues like inept professors and scheming deans, to psychedelic animated adventures into other universes. Recurring inside jokes and themes give knowing fans of Greendale Community College’s star students and faculty plenty to watch for. You can watch Community on Hulu.

Becky Fein, California Statewide Program Manager: The Office
The Office will always hold a special place in my heart. In 2010, I moved to New York City for grad school; while exciting, it was an overwhelming and intimidating transition for me. When I arrived, I had ten days before my semester began, and I spent much of that time mentally engrossed in the small town of Scranton, PA, with the goofy and lovable cast of The Office. Their relatable lives and daily shenanigans kept me grounded and brought a smile to my face, in a moment that very little else could. Find episodes of The Office basically everywhere including Netflix and Amazon.

Robyn Suchy, Chapter Coordinator: Scrubs
Who doesn’t love a good daydream? I know I’m often lost down the rabbit hole of my own mind and it can be fun, but no one does the daydream like JD and his fellow doctors and nurses at Sacred Heart Hospital. Scrubs is a medical sitcom that uniquely brings laughter to what would otherwise be a somber, serious environment of a hospital. While it does address real issues through episodes dealing with illness and disease and grief, at it’s heart, Scrubs is a show about the power of friendship, perseverance, and not taking yourself too seriously.

So what are your favorite laugh-out-loud sitcoms? Tweet them to us @Active_Minds!
Podcasts to Help You Laugh More (2017 Edition) Mon, 17 Apr 2017 14:42:39 +0000 Welcome to Spring Stress Less Week 2017!

Building on a list I published last spring, I am submitting to you our list of podcasts that will make you laugh (or leave you totally immersed in another reality) as you sprint to the end of the term. You’ll see a couple here are making a reappearance. That’s because they’re that good. So, if you haven’t checked them out yet, right now is a great time.

Please note: Not all of these podcasts are totally clean and work appropriate; in fact, basically all of them have swear words. Oh, and many of these hosts didn’t have phenomenal Active Minds chapters letting them know about how to cut stigmatizing colloquialisms out of their speech, so they sneak in every once in awhile.  You’ve been warned.

2 Dope Queens

Brought to you by WNYC and the truly dope talents of comedians Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams, 2 Dope Queens features funny conversations between its hosts as well as short stand-up sets by some of the most popular touring comedians on the road right now. And, every once in awhile guests like Baron Vaughn, Jon Stewart, and Ilana Glazer drop by. Start anywhere. You can almost guarantee that Jessica will make fun of Phoebe’s Bono infatuation.

2 Dope Queens

Sooo Many White Guys

As long as we’re on the topic of the phenomenal, incredible, and witty Phoebe Robinson, you should definitely check out her other podcast produced by WNYC and Ilana Glazer. Sooo Many White Guys features weekly interviews with anyone but straight, cis, white guys (except for the finale of each season, which features the “token white guy”). I recommend checking out Season 1, Episode 3 with Janet Mock, Season 1, Episode 6 with Gina Rodriguez, and Season 2, Episode 1 with St. Vincent. YQY!!!!

Reply All

This Gimlet Media podcast has been on the air for a couple of years now, but it has worked its way into my “have to listen as soon as it comes out” list. Hosts Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt (and their crew of excellent producers) tell stories that are in some way related to the internet. Each one is different, each is interesting, and each will get you out of your own head if that’s what you’re looking for during a stressful time. I have so many recommendations, but consider #36: Today’s the Day, #41: What it Looks Like (the “it” is depression), #56: Zardulu, and #82: Hello?


This is the first fictional radio drama from Gimlet Media. It’s a short season and features well-known actors and actresses including Oscar Isaac, Amy Sedaris, David Schwimmer, David Cross, and Catherine Keener. It. Is. Intense. So, this is definitely for those among us who need to be completely absorbed in another world. If you like British crime dramas, you’ll probably like Homecoming.

Anna Faris is Unqualified

Yes, this was on last year’s list. The only difference is that it’s gotten better! Anna has really settled into her groove as host, and the best parts are the first halves where she and her guests play improv games and Anna asks weird questions. #82 with RuPaul, #77 with Milo Ventigmiglia, #59/60 with Katie Couric, and #76 Anna’s Birthday are among the ones that made me laugh the most this last year.

Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me!

PUNS! NPR nerd puns! Who doesn’t love them? Ok. Not everyone loves them. But, if you do, then check out this roast of the week’s news with host Peter Sagal and a revolving cast of panelists. No one cares who wins the game because we all win with PUNS!

Wait Wait Don't Tell Me


Would you jump at the chance to read out of your middle or high school journal? Probably not. Would you jump at the chance to hear someone else read out of their middle or high school journal? If the answer is yes, then this podcast is for you! Hear folks talk (and read) about their deep, important, often embarrassing connections to the movie Titanic, boy bands, and summer camp.

Welcome to Night Vale

This selection comes from our esteemed Chapter Coordinator, Robyn Suchy. The podcast chronicles the strange and eerie happenings in the small, fictional town of Night Vale. As with Homecoming, this one is for completely absorbing yourself in a fictional world.

Another Round

Yup, it’s back on the list. Why? Because I am so entertained, informed, and inspired by this podcast that I can’t leave it off of any podcast list. Just find a guest you love and jump in. It only takes one episode to get hooked. And if any of you run into Tracy Clayton or Heben Nigatu, please just let them know what a fantastic bestie I would be and how much you think they’d like me. Thanks.

Another Round with Hillary Clinton

Dear Sugar Radio

Everyone’s favorite aunt and uncle, Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond, continue putting out hits. Listening to them offer sage advice to their listeners each week calms me. It makes me feel better about the world. And it makes me feel like I can do almost anything.

What are your favorite podcasts? We want to know! Tweet them to us @Active_Minds!

A Tale of Two Leaves Fri, 10 Mar 2017 14:43:05 +0000 This post was written by Mark Farley, Former Active Minds Intern and current Graduate Student at Emory University.

“The only mistake you can make is not asking for help.” – Sandeep Jauhar

When I began college, I thought it would only be four years. Society tells you four years, so naturally, I thought that was the norm. My collegiate life did not follow the idealized track.

It took me five years to graduate college and I attended three different schools. At two of the three schools, I took a medical leave of absence. My anecdotes of these two experiences are markedly different in both content and where I was mentally and psychologically as a college student battling Bipolar Disorder.

6 years ago I entered college, having only begun treatment a few months before. For the sake of privacy, I will not name them outright.

As a first-year, you want to make friends, join student organizations, and become a part of the community. I tried my best to accomplish it all, but my disorder greatly hindered me. As the semester wore on, my self-care began to wane. Attending class became an afterthought. Somehow, I escaped the first semester. But upon returning to school, my disorder ran my life. Dates and meals were a blur.

One night, I called my dad and uttered a phrase I had never uttered before: I need help.

I felt vulnerable and scared. No one ever wants to admit that they cannot control their own faculties let alone struggle day-to-day. My dad asked about the University’s available options. I told him I did not know. I had been to the counseling center, but my therapist never said anything despite my rapid decline. After perusing every major document, I found my option on the last page of the student handbook: medical leave of absence.

After the Dean of Student granted my request, I packed my bags in the dark of the night, said goodbye to no one, and left in a stupor of embarrassment.

Months after leaving, I missed it all: the classes, the weather, the professors. Eventually though I had to choose whether I would request reinstatement or move on. On the surface I wanted to return. I loved the school and how the academics challenged me. But, I knew I would not be happy.

To this day, I have never emailed the University my decision. As a consequence, whenever my family attends the University’s parents weekend to see my younger brother, my dad’s nametag states three graduation years: ’88 (his), ’19 (brother), and ’15 (mine).

Following my decision not to return, I attended my second college near my home as I continued treatment. I took classes there for a semester until my parents, my doctor, and I knew I would fare well at a school similar to my first.

In 2013, I matriculated at my alma mater. For semesters, I hid how I felt and the state of my disorder. On the outside I looked fine: I formed an Active Minds chapter and went out regularly with friends. But as anyone who suffers from depression or anxiety will tell you, that does not mean anything.

In the fall of my senior year, I was rarely practicing self-care. Nasty habits were greatly affecting my life, which culminated in my suicide attempt. The following days were a blur; discharge from the ER to a psychiatric ward, hard conversations with family and friends. Despite living off campus the ambulance had gone to the College first and then my house.

By the time I told the Director of Student Disability Services, the College knew. I requested a quasi-medical leave of absence. When she asked for how long, I said two weeks (a rather odd request). The clinic I would be entering had a 3-week comprehensive assessment unit. Since my doctor knew my diagnosis, I would be there for maintenance (about 2 weeks).

I told her I did not want to throw my senior year away, so I would do my best to juggle school and treatment. My professors worked with me and understood my plight. My parents and I flew back home and I saw my doctor the following day. By the end of the week, I had been admitted into the Menninger Clinic.

During treatment, I did my homework and planned final papers. My treatment team (2 doctors, primary nurse, social worker/therapist, psychologist) adjusted my medicine, established a sleep routine, and regular exercise patterns. The social worker at the Clinic also talked to my therapist at my College to keep her apprised of my treatment.

Everything was looking up.

By the end of the 2 weeks, it was time for my discharge and diagnostic conference with my team. Prior to the meeting, I had contacted the College and requested reinstatement. After reviewing my treatment and letter of recommendation by my doctor, the College accepted. My therapist at my College requested to be on the diagnostic conference call so she could hear the findings and plan of action. Unfortunately, one of her children fell ill so she asked the director of the counseling center to listen.

This is where things went rather awry.

My treatment team spoke for two hours about my treatment. Everyone was in agreement that I was in a completely different place. The new medication better treated my disorder. For the first time in years, I could sit still. My legs did not shake. I did not look agitated. My thoughts did not race. I felt calm. My doctor asked the director if he had any questions. The director said no, but stated that while he believes I may feel better, it would probably be best if I do not return.

The doctor clarified that I was in a safe place, and asked me to talk about my treatment. I told him about developing my new routines, and the calm I felt. To top it all off, I had worked on my classwork so I would not be behind. The director did not seem to care.

He questioned the decision of my doctors despite Menninger providing excellent care. As I sat there, my dad said, “if you were here, you would see how his legs do not shake anymore. And while he is rather frustrated, he is composed.” The director did not budge on his position.

He asked for the plan of action again. My doctor repeated it, also mentioning that I would be meeting with my on-campus therapist twice a week per the discussion held between my social worker and her. The director said, “I would prefer that Mark see a therapist off campus and not see her anymore.”

We were in shock. The argument continued, and finally, we rested. The doctor hung up the phone, looked at everyone and said, “zero communication on their end and zero trust.”

A few days letter, I returned to the College per their acceptance of my request. I met with the Disabilities Director and she asked if I ran into any problems. It was as if problems had occurred before. I told her about the phone call, and she looked appalled.

From there, I do not know what happened. Since I was the President of the Active Minds chapter at the College, I regularly dealt with the Director of the Counseling Center. Yet every time I met with him, I felt betrayed, as if my treatment was a sham in his eyes.

In the span of 5 years, I took two markedly different leaves. A medical leave of absence is one of the greatest tools a college can offer. But all too often we hear about colleges barring students or offering few resources for mental health.

At my first University, they did not have a disability coordinator. Even today, you have to email the same Dean of Students that I emailed back in 2012. Despite some of my alma mater’s faults, it is phenomenal that they have a disabilities office. What they lack, however, is communication.

Reflecting upon these memories is difficult. Prior to February 2017, I viewed these memories with disdain. I always found a way to demean myself or find failures. While I feel like I am the only one who does this, I know I am not. There are many things one may gain from my story, and hopefully these three will stick with you.

First, never be afraid to ask for help. It is scary and you become vulnerable. But, it is the first step towards wellness.

Second, practice self-compassion. When I took my leaves, I was disgusted with myself. I failed myself, my family, my professors, and friends. It took me a long time to overcome these feelings. However, a medical leave is nothing to be embarrassed about. You are choosing to take time off to focus on your health and well-being. Allow yourself that because I wish I had.

And third, give yourself space. I always want to judge myself for not going to class, not falling asleep at a reasonable hour, and leaving school for treatment. In reality, I cannot change my past, but only learn from it. There were reasons why I could not get out of bed or needed a medical leave of absence.

To be transparent, I am currently working on the latter two in therapy. It is hard work. But worth it.

Are you interested in learning more about the leave of absence policies on your campus and how they could be improved? Check out the Transform Your Campus Leave of Absence Campaign!

Reasonable Accommodations Tue, 07 Mar 2017 14:04:11 +0000 Over the last couple of decades, campuses have made great strides in accommodating students when they want to take a leave of absence from their home campuses. Some people study abroad. Others take time off to tour with their band or take care of a sick loved one. Others have medical issues they need to take care of or leave to have and take care of a newborn baby. And for the most part, these students can expect that when they’re ready to come back, their spot will be waiting for them.

Unfortunately, students with mental health disorders don’t always have the same experience.

Since the tragedy at Virginia Tech in 2007, campuses have seemed far more cautious in dealing with students with mental health issues.As a result, even when students choose on their own to take a leave of absence to work on their mental health, they’re sometimes met with hesitancy, skepticism, additional requirements, and on some campuses, a higher likelihood of having their re-enrollment denied. The fear is that perhaps any student with depression could be the next perpetrator of mass violence.

However, that’s just not how the statistics play out. Most people who struggle with their mental health aren’t going to be violent; in fact, they’re more likely to be victims of violence. But, as a former student affairs professional myself, I know fear can be a really strong force when you care about the students you’re working with every day. Sometimes the seeds of stigma and discrimination around mental illness win over our fearful brains. This is understandable, but at the end of the day these extra requirements and higher levels of scrutiny aren’t only unfair, they can be unlawful.

The Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act protect all students with disabilities, including psychological disabilities, and reasonable accommodations must be offered to students unless they cause an undue burden to the university or significantly alter the educational program. Reasonable accommodations for students with mental health disabilities may include (but are not limited to) more time on tests, an alternate testing site, or allowing a reduced course load or increased time to finish degree requirements.

In keeping with this last accommodation, students need to be allowed to step away from their studies to work on their mental health. After all, the age of onset of most mental health disorders is between 16 and 25 (which aligns with traditionally-aged students), and non-traditional students may face mental health triggers in the form of social alienation, work-life balance, and transition difficulties that can impact their work. So, like pregnant students, these students may need to step away for a bit and then step back in when they’re ready.

So, why are students who step away for physical reasons reportedly more likely to be able to return as soon as they’re recovered but a student with a mental health concern isn’t?

In defiance of the ADA’s equal coverage of physical and psychological disabilities, some schools have imposed additional blanket restrictions and requirements for students on a leave of absence for particular mental health reasons. Further, students on a medical leave of absence may be required to stay off campus for a prescribed minimum amount of time, release private treatment records, be assessed by a university-affiliated psychologist for fitness to return, or to write a personal essay and prove that they’ve held down volunteer work or a part-time job while they were away. These additional restrictions are unlawful because they are inconsistently applied or hold people with disabilities to a higher standard than the law allows.

Other policies are just confusing. At many universities, there’s a different leave of absence policy for every school, college, or department within it. The policies are hard to find, written generally, lack emphasis on the needs of individual students, and do not properly outline all the steps (and office visits and paperwork) necessary for processing the leave. For someone with depression or social anxiety, wading through an opaque policy and bureaucracy can be overwhelming.

And then there are involuntary leaves of absence.

You’ve heard of these. It’s when a student seeks help for suicidal ideation or an attempt, is immediately hospitalized, and before they’re even discharged from the hospital is served with notice that they’ve been put on a leave of absence for up to two semesters, are required to seek professional treatment if they ever wish to re-enroll, and have a limited time to get everything out of their residence hall room.

Here’s the thing about an involuntary leave of absence. Unless someone is a direct threat to someone else—has a plan, the means to execute it—then putting them on a leave of absence without their consent puts the cart before the horse. Not only is that not helpful to the student and their mental health, but it discourages other students from seeking help when they are struggling, too (lest they be kicked off campus). What’s more, if a school doesn’t provide due process—like a hearing where a student can explain their circumstances and why it isn’t in their best interest to leave—then, they’re not acting lawfully, either.

Obviously, this student leave of absence issue is extremely complex, and that’s why we’re here to help. We heard from so many students about how much they’d like to push for changes to their leaves of absence policies. That’s why we’ve created Transform Your Leave of Absence, a featured campaign of our Transform Your Campus advocacy program. On our website, you can find diagnostic tools to help you determine whether your school’s policies need work (and how much), and you can check out resources and tips to help you advocate for more equitable and compassionate policies for all–including how to work with administrators to make sustainable change.

For those of you who don’t know me, I had a severe eating disorder that came to a head during my senior year of college in 2005. Pre-Virginia Tech. The Dean of Students, my advisors, and my parents were able to work together to process my leave of absence in short order while I was in the hospital, and more than that, I was able to stay connected to my classes while I was in inpatient treatment. I returned to campus a few weeks later, to a network of people (including a psychiatrist, therapist, and nutritionist), who welcomed me back, caught me up, and helped me graduate on time. Their response was as individualized as it was compassionate.

It was clear to them, as it was to me, that being able to get back to my daily life, to graduate with my friends, were critical to the success of my treatment. That’s why I will always be incredibly grateful to my alma mater.

You can make sure future students are lucky, too. Check out our resources by going to and signing up for Transform Your Campus. Once you unlock the resources, you’ll be able to browse all of our featured campaigns as well as many other resources that will support you as you seek to trade campus controversy for compassion.

Are you interested in learning more about the leave of absence policies on your campus and how they could be improved? Check out the Transform Your Campus Leave of Absence Campaign!

Find the sources used to write this post and many more here.

Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Said and Heard Mon, 27 Feb 2017 14:51:45 +0000 What they said: “You look great! Have you lost weight?”

What she heard: “Skinnier is better! Keep going!”

What they said: “Eating healthy is so important.”

What he heard: “If you’re not eating like me, then you’re not eating healthy.”

What they said: “You look so healthy!”

What she heard: “You’ve gained weight.”

What they said to my colleague in an organization that addresses mental health and wellness: “You’re so disciplined. I wish I could have the same self-control you have.”

What I heard: “Self-control is good. You are better than me because you eat things that the diet industrial complex tells me I should.”

The impact on the office culture: “Everyone is watching what you eat. Everyone is judging your size and exercise habits. You’ll be praised if you go to the gym or eat the salad. Gazes will shift and you’ll be met with silence if you eat the sandwich.”

No culture is immune to the messages we absorb and perpetuate about eating, exercise, and body image. Not even Active Minds’ culture. In fact, if you hung out in our office in DC for a day, you would no doubt hear people putting down their own bodies or habits, glorifying others’, and generally perceiving that there is only one best nutritional approach, or exercise routine, or body shape.

As someone who has been in recovery for nearly 12 years, these comments no longer trigger me, but they do annoy me. Especially when I hear them coming out of my own mouth. They also demonstrate the insidiousness of Western fitness culture, and they parallel the persistence and complexity of eating disorders.

There’s nothing simple about body image, disordered eating, or eating disorders on their own; so, when they are inevitably entangled, it’s often hard to help people understand why they occur, who they impact, and what we can all be doing to change the culture that perpetuates them. Here are some good things to remember:

Eating disorders occur for a number of different reasons. People don’t simply develop eating disorders because of diet culture or pictures in magazines. Often, people develop eating disorders because they’re depressed or anxious, or they’ve experienced trauma, and they’re seeking control over something in their lives. Some people are susceptible to messages that drugs or alcohol can fix that, and they abuse substances. And some of us are susceptible to messages that if we can control our bodies—if we can make them smaller and strip them of their energy—we will be happier and numb ourselves to negativity. These aren’t rational or positive coping mechanisms, but they are deeply human responses that take root as illnesses.

Eating disorders can impact anyone. Stop it with the “rich, white girl” trope! Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses—not diets or vanity run amok. Research shows that eating disorders don’t discriminate on the basis of gender identity, sexuality, race, ethnicity, economics, or spiritual orientation. Rather, eating disorders feed on trauma, anxiety, depression, and other extreme stressors.

Eating disorders don’t look alike. Put the idea of the “anorexic supermodel” out of your mind. This is not the image of someone with an eating disorder. Eating disorders take up residence in the brain, regardless of the body that houses it. Some people with eating disorders are underweight, some are overweight, and some people are a normal weight. An eating disorder is not defined by the weight of a person. An eating disorder is defined by their behaviors, the effect of which may cause weight fluctuations as well as a full spectrum of medical complications. So stop equating “eating disorder” with “too skinny,” please.

There’s no one way to eat, exercise, or look. No two people have the same nutritional or exercise needs. No two people look exactly alike. Okay, fine. Maybe identical twins will call me out on this one. But generally, we need to stop perpetuating the myth that there’s one right way to eat healthy or exercise right that applies to everyone. So, people out there who think, “I’m not as good as the person I know who has cut out carbs or dairy,” stop it. If you’re happy with how you feel, your body does what you need it to do, and your doctor isn’t detecting any health issues, you’re fine. And those of you who think, “I’m the healthiest person I know because I don’t eat this, do these exercises, and look this way,” just stop it. Health looks different on everyone, and what is right for you probably wouldn’t work for the person next to you. Let’s give up the good versus evil narrative that drives people to invest in “diet solutions.”

Compliment anything else that doesn’t feed the eating disorder. Why are we constantly complimenting each other’s looks? Seriously. Why is it so important for us to say those things immediately upon seeing someone? These are questions I began seriously asking myself 4.5 years ago when my goddaughter was born. Ever since, I’ve endeavored to compliment Lila and her little sister in a whole slew of ways, but never on their appearance. At the end of the day, the things I love most about my goddaughter are her ferocity, her creativity, her precociousness, and her generosity. So, why wouldn’t I compliment those things every second I have the chance?

What we say about ourselves matters. You can do everything right to support a friend with an eating disorder. You can pay close attention to how you address their anxieties, support their recovery, and avoid talking about their weight, exercise, food, or size. But if you’re still dumping on your own body image, food choices, and clothing sizes within their earshot, then you’re perpetuating the culture in which an eating disorder voice continues to thrive. You’re poking at their anxieties and triggering messages they are working hard every day to push away. Not only that, but you’re destroying your own confidence. Why would you do that? When you stop being your own worst enemy, you stop being others’.

Eating disorder thoughts and behaviors are all around us, and they probably always will be. However, we can work to ensure that they can’t find fertile soil in which to take root. Let this Eating Disorders Awareness Week be just the beginning of an entire year of rejecting body shaming and eating disorder culture. We owe it to each other, and most importantly, we owe it to ourselves.

Treatment is available. For more information call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

Trying to support a friend who may be experiencing an eating disorder? Check out our resources for being a friend at

Ways to Cope with Post-Election Stress Thu, 10 Nov 2016 20:23:05 +0000 fall-leaves_cropped

The last 18 months have been tiring and anxiety-provoking, with a majority of Americans saying they’ve been worn out by the election.

After seeing the results of all the political races at the national, state, and local levels, it seems highly unlikely that every candidate you passionately supported for office this time around was elected. Our country is politically divided right now—perhaps more than it’s been in decades—and coping with that split is difficult.

With that in mind, consider the following coping tips to smooth things out and find a way forward.


No, politics isn’t necessarily a sport, but there are winners and losers. Remember the principles of sportsmanship as you proceed this week. If your candidate won, be gracious. No need to rub it in your opponents’ faces; they know they have lost. Part of healing this division is extending your hand, saying “good game,” and offering to work together.

Likewise, if your candidate lost, extend your hand and say “good game,” too. No matter how hard you fought, seeing your opponent as a fellow human is important.

Let it out.

If you supported someone who lost, it’s ok to cry, be angry, and vent. Look to your support system and other like-minded individuals to help you through.

Drink water.

This might seem out of place, but staying hydrated when you’re under stress is very important.

Moderate alcohol.

Alcohol is a depressant. So, if you’re feeling down, alcohol will only make it harder for you to think clearly, get out of bed in the morning, and maintain your relationships.

Get outside.

Step out and see a friend or take a walk through nature to gain some perspective. Take comfort in seeing that the world is still turning.

Get back to your routine.

Go to class, the gym, eat dinner, go for a run. Do what you would on a normal day to prevent post-election stress from overtaking you.

Do some good.

Volunteer for a local organization, participate in a random act of kindness for someone, put more love into the world.

Reach out.

If you know people who have been negatively impacted by election outcomes, let them know you’re there for them if they need to talk or just a place to escape to. Supporting others can help you feel like you’re doing something, even when you’re unsure of what to do next.

Call your therapist.

If you are in therapy, or are feeling like this is a good time to start, call to make an appointment. Having someone to talk to who is nonjudgmental and trained to help you sort out your thoughts can be a huge relief.

Local resources.

Find out what resources are being offered on your campus. Some campus communities are offering additional group therapy sessions, community conversations, and support groups.

National resources.

Whether you or someone you know has been triggered or is struggling, there are many resources available:

  • RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
  • The Trevor Project Helpline (for LGBTQIA+ youth and young adults): 1-866-488-7386
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
  • Crisis Text Line: Text “Brave” to 741-741

You do you.

Brainstorm a list of positive coping mechanisms that help you through other times of stress. Often, your best resource for what to do is already inside you.

Why NDWS is the Most Important Day of the Year Mon, 03 Oct 2016 12:00:35 +0000 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.