Miscellaneous – Active Minds Blog http://activemindsblog.org Changing the conversation about mental health Mon, 10 Jul 2017 17:03:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 3 Action Steps For May http://activemindsblog.org/here-they-are-3-action-steps-for-may/ Fri, 28 Apr 2017 17:53:18 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=6581 Go ahead and make these small changes — you could see a big difference! These three action steps will benefit you AND those around you. This is a great time to try them out and celebrate yourself, spring, and May as Mental Health Month.

Self-Care: Get outside! Whether you take a walk or pet a friendly dog, getting some fresh air can help lift your mood.

Friend-Care: Take some time to text, call, or see a friend you haven’t connected with in awhile. Sometimes when we struggle, we have a tendency to isolate from others. Reconnecting has benefits for everyone.

World-Care: Tell someone why you care about mental health and encourage them to do the same. The more we all talk about mental health, the more compassion we have for ourselves and our fellow humans.

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Graduation Advice from the Speakers Bureau http://activemindsblog.org/graduation-advice-from-the-speakers-bureau/ Wed, 12 Apr 2017 18:28:53 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=6472

Graduation is right around the corner and we could not be more proud of everything you all have accomplished this year. Taking that next big step can be scary, so we asked the Speakers Bureau to share some of their wisdom — and vintage grad photos! — with you before you hit the stage. 🙂

Meg Hutchinson

“It can be so hard to slow down after the whirlwind of finals and the joy of graduation. This transition can be demanding in new and surprising ways. Be gentle with yourself. Allow yourself to sometimes not have the answers or see a clear path. Life has another curriculum in store and sometimes it’s a little more confusing. But there is so much to be gained. Rest in the places of confusion if you can. Be kind to yourself and remember that you deserve some time now just to dream and just to BE. Keep in touch with the people who have been dear to you and who encourage your growth.” – Meg Hutchinson

Frank Warren

I was honored to be asked to deliver the graduation speech at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, I went to the school in advance and handed out postcards to students. Each card had one question, but I didn’t ask for a secret. Instead I wrote, “If you could share a ‘one-sentence commencement address’ with your classmates, what would it be?” I was surprised when the question spread on Twitter and people responded from around the world. I continue to do this for every commencement message I am invited to deliver, always including some of the thoughtful messages from the graduates in the finished speech.

  • Never be afraid of not knowing, it means you always have one more journey to take.
  • Don’t live life randomly. 
  • Be wise enough not to be reckless but brave enough to take great risks. 
  • Couches become homes to raccoons if left outside all year. 
  • Happiness does not come from money, it comes from compassion.
  • When you think you’re about to have a break down, you’re really on the verge of a break through.  – Frank Warren
Danée Sergeant

You made it for a reason.
– Danée Sergeant

Colleen Coffey

 

My best advice would be to take in each moment. Just breathe and be – don’t rush – just slow down and relish the experience you are having when you are having them. – Colleen Coffey

 

Maggie Bertram

Maintain your support system. You’re not going to stay in touch with all of your friends from school, but you should make time to stay in touch with the truly good ones. They’ll be there for you the rest of your life. Mine sure have. – Maggie Bertram


We want to see YOUR graduation photos — Tag your grad photos using #ActiveMindsAlum so we can follow along on your big day!

Wanna decorate your cap? For free grad cap designs and more, check out www.activeminds.org/graduation.

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In Memory of Amy Bleuel, Founder of Project Semicolon http://activemindsblog.org/in-memory-of-amy-bleuel-founder-of-project-semicolon/ Fri, 31 Mar 2017 13:37:38 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=6436

 

The Active Minds community is so saddened to hear of Amy Bleuel’s death.

Four years ago, Amy, the founder of Project Semicolon, posted a note on social media encouraging anyone who is depressed, unhappy, has anxiety, or is suicidal to draw a semicolon on their wrist. She wrote, “A semicolon represents a sentence the author could’ve ended but chose not to.”

It became a poignant and powerful symbol of choosing to go on. Whether as a tattoo or drawn on, the semicolon is visible and it acknowledges and celebrates a struggle and a decision that is often hidden from view.

As Amy wrote, “Your story isn’t over.”

Amy’s vision was embraced by hundreds of thousands of college students. Many Active Minds chapters each year reach out to their peers on campus with events and activities based on Project Semicolon.

Last fall, for example, the Active Minds chapter at UCLA launched a semicolon photo campaign. “The people in this campaign were asked to speak about their history with depression and incorporate a semi-colon into words that meant a lot to them,” said Brooke Alexander, chapter co-president. “We took the photos on campus and they were featured on our Facebook page.”

The photo above was graciously provided by student Courtney Cruz. You can read below her words, explaining what the semicolon means to her as she supports a close friend dealing with depression and suicide ideation.

Thank you, Amy Bleuel. You gave the world a powerful symbol of hope and a way to make our struggles and successes visible and connected to each other. Gone too soon, you will continue to influence our work to bring the conversation about mental health out of the shadows for all to see.

Please take care. If you or a friend are struggling, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “BRAVE” to 741-741 to reach the Crisis Text Line. Both are available 24/7.

 

During my second year at UCLA, I almost lost my dear friend to suicide.

“After going through a difficult situation, her depression manifested itself in suicide ideation, attempting to convince her that suicide was her only way out. She wrote a letter to me asking how does someone know if they have depression and describing her want to harm herself. Unfortunately, I did not see the letter before her attempt, but a few months after, she had the courage to tell me about the letter. In tears, she said that it was because of our friendship and the joy I’ve shown her, that she found the strength to not go through with suicide.

“That day, I vowed to her that she would not go through this alone. Using the lyrics to the song, “Sea of Lovers” she was for the first time able to explain what depression felt like to her. Within the song, the lyrics “bring me home” is in the chorus. Instantly, I told her I was going to get that line tattooed in the same area she presently has a scar from her attempt, to show her I am here for her always.

“As well versed and educated as I am in mental illness, nothing can prepare you to see someone you love not look like themselves anymore. Depression comes at 4am when the tears are falling and she needs a friend; when she feels nothing, everything, and happiness is a dead end. I have stayed up all night, good days and bad, been the strength when she had none, spent hours talking and piecing back the days she can no longer remember.

“Through an uphill battle and various obstacles, she is now managing her depression through therapy and talking to me. Seeing her battle against depression has ultimately redefined my definition of the word “strength.” She is the reason I am so passionate and have been honored to be a part of Active Minds, as Education Co-Director for 2 years.

“Her dedication to bettering herself and beating depression is the very reason I am dedicated to educating, serving, and protecting others who may feel they do not have a voice. Through education, I firmly believe we all have the ability to help someone. Depression is a word, but so is Love.

“A semicolon signifies the author’s choice to continue his or her story. To my friend: keep writing your story and I will be right beside you—when you believe you cannot write anymore, I will pick up the pen and help you. Remember, I will bring you home; This is for you 💚

— by Courtney Cruz

Photograph by Sana Mahajan

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Life after Active Minds: 5 ways to continue your mental health advocacy after graduation http://activemindsblog.org/life-after-active-minds-5-ways-to-continue-your-mental-health-advocacy-after-graduation/ http://activemindsblog.org/life-after-active-minds-5-ways-to-continue-your-mental-health-advocacy-after-graduation/#comments Mon, 06 Mar 2017 14:39:50 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=6249 This post is the first in a two-part series on life after Active Minds.

Have you wondered how you can continue to advocate for mental health awareness and suicide prevention post-graduation, even if you don’t plan on making a career out of it?  Are you about to graduate and looking to contribute to a workforce that is supportive of mental health?  If you answered yes to either of these questions, keep reading!

We interviewed several professionals (who also all happened to be former Active Minds students!) to learn how their experience as a student advocate with Active Minds influenced their ongoing commitment to mental health awareness and suicide prevention. Here are the 5 ways they suggested students can continue mental health advocacy post-college:

  1. Seek out job or volunteer opportunities that allow you to do this work in another context.

Marian Trattner, Suicide Prevention Coordinator at The University of Texas at Austin, recommended, “Find a mental health organization in your community to volunteer with, like the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), or connect with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) chapter in your area.  If there are no organizations like this near you, start one.  Be on the board for a non-profit to learn more about it.”

If you prefer directly interacting with people affected by mental health, Ashli Haggard, a project associate for a sexual assault prevention organization, suggested, “Stay involved by volunteering on hotlines, like 7 Cups of Tea, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or the Crisis Text Line.”

  1. Show off the transferrable skills you gained through Active Minds and similar activities on your resume.

Don’t count out the experiences and skills you’ve gained as a student leader on your campus. Maggie Bertram, Associate Director for Training and Education at Active Minds, Inc., shared how her experience as a resident assistant on campus supports her current work.

“The programming piece was helpful. I hosted events that not that many people showed up to, but they took on really important topics. This kind of environment provides a great training ground for future advocates, because anytime you do mental health programs, you have to prepare yourself for the possibility that maybe only three people will show up.  Then, you have to think, ‘Well, the three people that are here are getting really good messaging!’”

Haggard shared, “My time as president of the Active Minds Student Advisory Committee and as a chapter board member helped me coordinate large events and projects that involve lots of volunteers and staff. My time as a campus sexual assault peer educator prepared me for the subject matter I currently work with.  An internship at a hospital helped me learn about program planning and evaluation in larger communities aside from college campuses.  I also held a communications internship at a policy and literacy organization that helped me learn to market programs and develop business skills.”

“No matter what, you will spend the first few months [at a new job] feeling there’s so much to learn.  Every experience is new and you’ll learn something on-the-job that you couldn’t have learned beforehand.  Even if you don’t have 100% of what a job posting is looking for, what they really want to know is, ‘Can you learn to do this?’  The answer should be, ‘yes!’”

  1. Continue practicing self-care.

Regardless of where you go after graduation, the necessity of practicing self-care is important to remember and can be a form of personal mental health advocacy.

Eliza Lanzillo, who now works at the National Institute of Mental Health, shared, “I try to take time each day to check out and do something just for me.  Exercise helps me immensely.  I also take time to cook a nice meal for myself and try different recipes every day.  I read a fiction novel before going to sleep; it’s nice to get off screens and relax and unwind.”

“One of best things I have done for self-care is to not talk about home at work or work at home; I keep the two completely separate,” said Haggard.  “Especially for those working to change some injustice in the world: if you don’t put that down for a second and look at all the good things around you, you’ll burn out.  It doesn’t make you a bad advocate to take a break sometimes.”

Bertram recommended writing down your self-care plan and taping it up to your desk or at home. She also discussed the importance of having a strong support network. “My self-care is connecting to and having conversations with my partner to work through difficult emotions.  She is really good at helping me put things in perspective and adequately feel and process things.”

  1. Make sure your work environment is healthy and supportive.

You may have to do some digging during job interviews to gauge whether or not the workplace climate is one you want to be a part of.  Haggard recommended asking questions about the work environment and the team during job interviews.

“Do people typically work more than 40 hours a week? Do people take their lunch breaks away from their desks? Do coworkers hang out together after work, or do they keep work and play completely separate? What do people say is their favorite thing about working here?  Keep in mind that environments that work for someone else may not work for you, and that’s okay.”

  1. Advocate for mental health in your everyday life in simple ways.

There are ways to incorporate mental health into your professional life, no matter where your career path takes you. Hayley Harnicher, Speakers Bureau Coordinator at Active Minds, said, “My former chapter co-president from the University of Rochester is now a fifth-grade teacher and she incorporates mental health into her job. She’ll wear her Active Minds button to class or a yellow ribbon for Suicide Prevention Week and explain to her students what those things mean.”

You can also exercise your policy advocacy rights as a citizen. “Learn about legislative advocacy and go to mental health advocacy day in your area.  Get trained in what it means to testify in front of your representatives and senators, or write a letter to your representatives and senators asking [them] to advocate for mental health,” said Trattner.

Haggard added, “You can stay involved by becoming a monthly donor to an organization of your choice as this is a major source of revenue for non-profits and one of easiest ways to support their work.  In general, live your life and build your relationships in a mentally healthy and supportive environment.  Stay involved in the movement and share it with those you know through simple conversations in your everyday life.”

Interested in taking the next step and making mental health advocacy your career?  Keep an eye out for the second post in this series titled, “Life after Active Minds: Pursuing a career as a mental health advocate.”

 

Interviewee Profiles:

 Maggie Bertram, Associate Director of Training and Education at Active Minds (Boston, MA)

Maggie holds a Bachelor’s degree in history with a focus in secondary education and Asian studies from Illinois Wesleyan University, and a Master’s degree in higher education and student affairs from the University of Connecticut.  At Active Minds, she currently manages awareness campaigns, runs online courses for Transform You/Transform Your Campus and Our Stories, Our Strengths, and serves as a trainer for and a member of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau.

Ashli Haggard, Consulting Services Project Associate (Washington, DC) 

Ashli has a B.S. in community health from the University of Maryland at College Park.  She currently works with a national non-profit organization for sexual assault prevention advocacy.

 

Hayley Harnicher, Speakers Bureau Coordinator and Internship Manager at Active Minds, Inc. (Washington, DC)

Hayley majored in psychology at the University of Rochester and now manages interns at the Active Minds office and works to bring members of the Speakers Bureau to students all across the country.

 

Eliza Lanzillo, Post-baccalaureate Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA) at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) (Bethesda, MD)

Eliza earned a B.A. in psychology from Brown University, and now works as an IRTA at NIMH, assisting with clinical research on suicide risk screening instrument development and validation studies.

Marian Trattner, Suicide Prevention Coordinator at The University of Texas at Austin (Austin, TX)

Marian holds a Bachelor’s degree in social work and a Master’s degree in social work with an emphasis in policy planning and administration from The University of Missouri (Go, Tigers!).  She works in the Counseling and Mental Health Center at The University of Texas at Austin doing community-based suicide prevention programming and outreach.  

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Riot or Be Quiet? http://activemindsblog.org/riot-or-be-quiet/ Mon, 27 Feb 2017 13:00:08 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=6274  

2014 Black Lives Matter Protest Washington D.C

It’s not often you’re presented with an opportunity to do something you care about, but the moment you are- run towards it. When I saw the advertisement for an internship at Active Minds, I fervently applied. I yearned to participate in a cause that affects my life and community. This week, as I began writing a piece to commemorate Black History Month, I became curious about the birth of mental health awareness in black communities. I googled and found some research online surrounding slavery and early mental institutions. However, I was surprised to find little to no advocacy during the Civil Right’s movement for mental health awareness.

The Civil Rights movement will forever be a profound era in American history. Most of the movement was televised for all of the nation to see. There was no escaping the tense atmosphere. The media coverage of the Civil Rights era included scenes of peaceful protesters being water hosed and attacked by vicious dogs, students shot on university campuses by government forces, and charred buses that were burned by cocktail bombs. Americans were traumatized, especially Black America.

 

CNN Civil Right’s Photos

Black America was in the process of transitioning from slavery and the reconstruction era to paving a way for their communities when it became obvious they were not getting a fair chance at achieving the American dream. As they fought for equality, hardly anyone had a moment to notice the mental trauma that many were experiencing from stress, anxiety, and fear. Activists quietly struggled to hold on to their mental peace so that they could make societal strides in their communities.

During my research, I came across one outstanding advocacy effort on behalf of the mental health of Black Americans. In 1967, following a series of urban insurrections, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a speech to the American Psychology Association challenging social scientists to take action. He did so to change the context in which social scientists currently viewed issues of race in America.   He called the speech “The Role of the Behavioral Scientist in the Civil Rights Movement.”                                                                                                       

Social Scientists of the time were faulted for playing no role in the revelation of trauma experienced by blacks, and for leaving the Negro Action Movement to reveal the truth behind black unrest in urban communities.
Before he addressed the issue of urban riots, Dr. King powerfully stated,

“The decade of 1955 to 1965, with its constructive elements misled us. Everyone, activists and social scientists underestimated the amount of violence and rage negroes were suppressing and the amount of white bigotry the white majority were disguising.”

Where riots took place, within the cities, black individuals were facing disparaging conditions:

“When we ask Negroes to abide by the law, let us also demand that the white man abide by law in the ghettos. Day-in and day-out he violates welfare laws to deprive the poor of their meager allotments; he flagrantly violates building codes and regulations; his police make a mockery of law; and he violates laws on equal employment and education and the provisions for civic services. The slums are the handiwork of a vicious system of the white society; Negroes live in them but do not make them any more than a prisoner makes a prison.”

Riots were a result of Northern blacks adapting their own form of rebellion. The peaceful demonstrations in the South of the United States could not ease their contained frustrations from being ill treated and marginalized. When an opportunity came to express themselves, they exploded with violence and anger. In his speech Dr. King references Kenneth Clark’s theory on suicidal instincts that arise when rioting. Can you imagine feeling so deprived that you risk your life to take part in the destruction of public and private property around you?

At the end of his speech, King called on Social Scientists to do the following: suggest mechanisms to create a wholesome black community (lower income and more affluent black unity); examine political action in black communities; and examine psychological and ideological changes in blacks as they transform from being dependent on the white majority.

I don’t believe social scientists have addressed King’s wishes. Riots in the black community have continued to occur since the civil rights movement. Many of these riots surround issues of police brutality, a very common phenomenon that occurs within black neighborhoods and beyond to blacks in upstanding communities. Most recent for us, are the riots in Ferguson and Baltimore.

While Dr. King did not mention specific illnesses in his speech, it is evident that the social and economic degradation were triggers for what we know today as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, severe anxiety and OCD disorders in the black communities. Medical and academic knowledge on this subject continues to grow slowly, but the examination of this is underrepresented. Social Scientists remain silent.

Rioting is not only practiced by displaced African Americans. We have seen it in the early beginnings of America, on college campuses, protests over new government policies, and even more recently in D.C the day of the inauguration of an unfavorable leader.

As mental health awareness and knowledge for treatments expand, we must do our part as a community to end the issues that cause mental trauma. It is evident that our current dilemmas with racial, social and economic inequality (while they have advanced) exist at a greater level than we anticipated. I applaud those who desire to lace up their boots to participate in something impactful.

I challenge you to neither riot or silence your voice. I’ve found my outlet here as an intern at Active Minds. I understand how damage to mental health from bottled emotions affects our local communities. Here at Active Minds we seek to increase awareness of mental health among all college students across the nation and share the stories of teenagers who are experiencing trauma. We encourage you to reach out to us and share your stories as we are all bracing for what appears to be another time of uncertainty for this country.

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I’m no longer alone http://activemindsblog.org/im-no-longer-alone/ Wed, 21 Dec 2016 21:07:05 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=5994 Some life experiences are difficult to handle alone. That’s why there’s Active Minds. Students like Vanessa who are dealing with so much can find the resources and support to see them through tough times. Read Vanessa’s story below and be inspired by her resilience and fighting spirit!

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Active Minds is the reason I am still alive and still in school. That alone is worth any amount of donation you can find to support our important work.

But, why Active Minds? Let me tell you…

This was a regular day for me when I was little — that’s me over there, hiding behind the pink Barbie doll house — can you see me? Between the flying chairs, hateful words and blunt blows, that’s me holding my breath and trying to make myself as small as possible. This was normal. This was my life as a child.

From a very early age, I knew abandonment. My mom and dad were only 14-years-old when I was born. I was put up for adoption but then raised by my grandparents. We lived in a trailer and were poverty-stricken, and I witnessed and experienced various forms of abuse. The way I coped was by disassociating and numbing my emotions. By 9th grade, my mental health really took a turn.

I was 15-years-old at the time of my first suicide attempt.

Unfortunately, the decline in my mental health continued through high school. Even more devastating, three days before the start of my freshman year I was sexually assaulted. It was too much. The progress I made to try to reach a healthy place was immediately replaced with a relapse of self-harm and disassociation.

I was 19-years-old at the time of my second suicide attempt.

The first year of college I felt completely alone and totally overwhelmed. Friends strongly urged me to attend an Active Minds meeting but I was hesitant and didn’t go. I had no idea what I was missing.

When I finally attended my first Active Minds meeting as a sophomore, I felt like I was home.

For the first time I felt accepted and understood—I was loved for exactly who I am. It reaffirmed that I was not alone in my struggles. I was surrounded by a room full of people who “just get it.”

I totally regret going through my first year of college without Active Minds. I’m sharing my story with you today so you’ll know how important this organization is to young adults everywhere. On paper, Active Minds is a student club, but really it’s a family and a place to belong, often for the first time.

Don’t let other teens and young adults miss out on the chance to feel accepted and supported just the way they are. Donate to Active Minds so young adults everywhere can know they’re not alone… and the world needs them here.

Sincerely,

Vanessa Zimmerman
Active Minds at Ithaca College, NY

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Help Others, Feel Connected: Why I Interned at Active Minds http://activemindsblog.org/help-others-feel-connected-why-i-interned-at-active-minds/ Wed, 21 Dec 2016 16:04:43 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=5989 Since I started my internship at Active Minds, I’ve been asked by family and friends why I picked Active Minds.  The short answer: I want to help others who suffer and feel alone like I did.

Let me tell you a little about myself;  I am a 39 year old woman who is finally finishing my college degree on-line from Lesley University.

You see, the reason I did not complete my degree in the 1990s, when I first started college, or when I tried to go back again (twice), was because of my mental health issues. I got to college and was happier than I had been in high school.  I was a teacher’s pet in high school but never fit in with the other students.  I wasn’t bullied, but my grade formed a lot of cliques and I wasn’t in any of them, which left me feeling on the outside.  I got to college, though, and found an amazing group of friends; I was doing well, making good grades.  I was even figuring out my major.

Then one morning, I woke up in intense pain from my collar bone to my hips that localized in my left chest, arm and back.  After 12 hours in the ER I was back in my dorm, having been told it was most likely a one-time event.  I was back in the hospital a week later.  This started a long process of seeing doctors, and undergoing copious tests.  As the pain gradually moved from my chest to my stomach, causing me to be violently ill, the doctors switched from cardiologists to gastroenterologists.  No one could find anything physically wrong with me.  This led them to believe it might be panic attacks.Katie Shulman

I was barely going to school because I was afraid I would be sick in the middle of class, and I was also in denial about it about my condition. I missed so many classes I was failing.  After the doctors diagnosed panic attacks, the rounds of medications began, but they didn’t seem to do anything or had strong negative side effects.

I started hearing phrases like “It’s all in your head” and “buck up” or “just make yourself get up, you’ll feel much better.”  These remarks came from people who loved me and were trying to help, but they made me feel like a failure.

After a year of this, I finally left school and came home to get help.  I started working in retail and seeing a variety of doctors.  After a while I decided to try school again.  But again, the plan failed and what happened at my first school was repeated.

After years of misdiagnoses and hearing “it’s all in your head,” I finally received the proper medical diagnoses from new doctors who concluded that I suffered not only from Panic Attacks, but from other disorders including Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Depression, Agoraphobia and Claustrophobia.  Having a clear explanation of my illnesses made all the difference.

So I tried school again…and failed.  I felt like a disappointment to my family and friends.  I felt stupid and weak because I couldn’t do what so many others did every day. But I’m lucky.  I have a family who love and support me and who make sure I know that they’ll always be there for me, and help me get whatever help I need.  I decided that school seemed to be the trigger point for the worst of my illness.

So I stopped thinking about school and concentrated on work, and for a while I was OK with that life.  But then, I started feeling restless, like I was at a cross roads.  And then something happened.  Both my parents ended up in the hospital–my father, for back surgery—and four days later, my mother for complications from a medical condition. Dad started healing, but my mother’s condition took a number of complicated turns.

I soon became her patient advocate.  One of the nurses told me that I should be in this field, as I was a natural at taking care of people. This statement would change me and my path in life.

I finally felt like it was time to try again, so, even though I was terrified, I started researching on-line universities.  I have now completed one year at Lesley Universities Distance Learning Program and am proud to say the anxiety and panic attacks are under control.

I may be 40 or older when I graduate and start my new career (SCARY), but the feeling that I can’t finish college and that I’m a failure or a disappointment will, hopefully, be gone.

Lesley requires completion of two internships to graduate.  I found Active Minds and learned that its goal is to change the way people think and talk about mental health on college campuses, and I knew immediately that I wanted to be involved. Had there been a chapter on my campus when I was in school, maybe I could have completed college on my first try!  I can say with confidence that it would have helped me feel less alone and lessened the stigma of my illness.  So, whenever someone asks why I chose Active Minds or why I am attempting to finish my degree at this point in my life, I tell them: It’s because I want to help others going through the same pain that I did.  I want to make sure that they feel less alone and helpless and Active Minds is working to do exactly that.

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Mental Health in College Athletes http://activemindsblog.org/mental-health-in-college-athletes/ Fri, 09 Dec 2016 18:39:47 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=5978 About a month ago, I would have had my collegiate senior game. A day that I had been both dreading and anticipating ever since I started playing my sport. It is a day to honor student-athletes that will be playing their last collegiate match, but it is far more than just celebrating their last game. It represents all the years of hard work that go into becoming the athlete who is walking onto the field, as announcers call out your name and accomplishments. Senior day signifies that you have finally made it. It means that it was all worth it. Every conditioning session, every penalty corner repetition, every dollar and minute spent was worth it. You have reached the pinnacle of your athletic career and have attained what was likely a childhood dream.

Unfortunately for many, it can represent much more than simply their time and effort. A number of college athletes have the added component of dealing with mental health concerns, which go unaddressed most of the time. An alarming amount of which experience suicidal ideation or suffer death by suicide, causing them to miss out on their senior game, as well as their lives. The reason for this is as disheartening as it is preventable. Athlete culture has a stigma surrounding mental health. This is likely due to the idea that showing weakness is unacceptable for athletes.

We push through. We dig deep for a second wind. We are resilient. We do not ask for help.

This ideology is what negatively affects college-athletes and causes them to feel alone or helpless. There is always a tension between players, whether it be based on playing time, perceived favorability, or simply the player’s athletic ability. Separate from team dynamics, the mere amount of time spent and the consequent lack of opportunity to take part in other activities, can easily cause a student-athlete to feel like a body on a field.

It is hard not to feel one’s identity reduced from a person with interests and passions to a series of numbers; times, reps, jersey.

To add even more isolation to the struggle of an athlete, many are restricted in regards to outside activities. Social lives, free time and overall well-being are compromised. Amid weight lifting, conditioning, practice, traveling for games, team activities, classes, and study hall, many students feel that they are not getting the most of their time in college. As millennial as this may sound, the “fear of missing out” is a critical factor in one’s health. It also does not help that being an athlete tends to keep athletes in a bubble. When all, or most of your friends are athletes as well, branching out can be difficult. I strived for and cherished any non-athlete friends I could, because they provided a relief from the constant pressure.

That is not to say I did not love my teammates. Some of my teammates became my best friends on and off the field. There is an incomparable bond that comes with the territory; your teammates become your family. Though having said that, I want to shed light on the apprehension that many still have about opening up to other teammates. On my team alone, I knew of at least five other players that had sought out treatment or had considered it. This knowledge had been shared with me in confidence. It was information that I only acquired by speaking up about the need for mental health reform and actively cultivating my relationships. For many of us, myself included, treatment did not fit into our schedule. The designated athletic department psychologist (there was only one for the entire department) had been booked for weeks in advance, and the student counseling services building was a far trek I was not able to justify making.

I was lucky to have coaches that actively tried to promote wellness, both physically and mentally. We took part in weekly mindfulness exercises and did team yoga, but I still believe that stigma is prevalent in athletic culture as a whole, even despite a coach’s outlook. When we glorify the ability to forego one’s feelings, emotionally and physically, it is no wonder athletes do not admit to their peers or coaches that they are not well. One’s admitted health concern becomes a point of scrutiny and weakness, even if it is only brought up out of concern.

After a recent conversation with a former teammate, I was pleased to hear that the coaches, and other members of the department, made a point to discuss mental health concerns with the team. They stated that their doors were always open for any athletes that were struggling with their mental health and wanted to talk about it.

However, as much as this represents a positive stride towards changing the culture, it was still one that does little to address underlying concerns that hold students back from bringing up their personal struggle. Knowing that coaches are willing to talk to you does not eliminate the fear that it will have negative consequences on playing time and one’s relationship with their coaches. The level of comfort discussing such matters may even rely on the closeness or quality of the coach-athlete relationship, a factor that is reciprocally affected by such an interaction.

So what feasible changes can be implemented to improve athlete culture?

  • Open discussion regarding mental health should be encouraged. Students do not feel comfortable sharing with coaches for fear of having it negatively affect their playing time. Therefore, this perception needs to be changed. Department-wide shifts need to be made. Students should be encouraged to voice their concerns, perhaps even anonymously, to provide an honest evaluation of the current state of things. The fear of judgement needs to be addressed or completely avoided, by way of anonymity or entrusted members of the department.
  • Mental health professionals should be made available to athletes. If speaking directly to a coach is not something a student is comfortable with, athletic departments need to enlist the services of more than a single therapist. It should be just as easy to treat one’s mental health as it should a sprained ankle. Athletic training rooms are filled to the brim with athletic trainers and their assistants. Additionally, every team is designated several athletic trainers that are specific to their team. Yet, there are often far fewer sports-specific therapists on staff. This goes to show which side of wellness takes precedence in the current culture.
  • Athletes, as well as athletic department staff, need to be educated on mental health and practice wellness habits, just like any other component of their sport. Athletic departments need to have internal curriculum for their own programming, but also one that is specific to student-athletes. Raising awareness is the first step in prevention and care. It should not be viewed as a superfluous measure, but one of vital importance.

It is no coincidence that in 2013, Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Brian Hainline, declared the top health and safety concern of the NCAA to be mental health. Just as concussions have started coming out of the shadows, and athletes are increasingly aware of the effects, treatment and prevention, mental health needs to follow suit.

The NCAA, backed by 24 different organizations, recently published a set of guidelines, or “best practices,” that are relevant to the mental health of athletes. A suggested practice states that athletes should be regularly evaluated and treated by licensed practitioners. The institutions should establish clearly communicated procedures for referrals, as well as emergency action plans for suicide ideation and psychosis. The guide further suggests that athletic programs should include mental health screenings as a part of yearly physical exams. Lastly, a mental health curriculum should be formulated to educate athletes about self-care, stress management practices, the importance of sleep, peer intervention methods, and how to recognize symptoms of mental health disorders.

These guidelines, exemplary in expression, need to be followed up on, and promoted. Actually implementing these changes outlined by the NCAA should be taken seriously, as student’s lives and well-being are at stake.

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Hannah’s Story http://activemindsblog.org/hannahs-story/ Mon, 05 Dec 2016 14:31:55 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=5954 Hannah Metzger joined Active Minds as a freshman and served as chapter president at West Chester University (PA) for two years. Over the summer, we had the privilege of hosting Hannah as an intern at our national office.

After watching the interview below, you’ll be so impressed with Hannah’s strength, warmth, and poise, and the amazing impact Active Minds has every day.

 

 

As you consider your holiday charitable giving, choose to donate to Active Minds. Your gift makes a life-saving difference by preventing young adult suicides and raising awareness about mental health.

Donate

 


VIDEO TRANSCRIPT

When I was 13-years-old I lost my father to suicide. And when I was 17 I lost my 14-year-old brother. And since then I’ve really struggled with depression and anxiety as a result of that…

When I first began college, I was fine in the beginning of the first semester of my freshman year and then started to get really overwhelmed and decided I couldn’t do it and was never going to make it through. And I had a breakdown in mid-October I would say, and talked to my mom and told her for the first time I was actually thinking of ending my own life. And it was terrifying…

Then the spring of my freshman year, I found Active Minds on my campus and it finally felt like that one place I was looking for that I needed some support from…

Active Minds is really important on college campuses because the onset age for many different mental health disorders and illnesses is early college age, so 18, 19, 20, 21. And I don’t think anyone is getting the help they need because it’s such a weird transition period that they don’t know what’s available, they don’t know where to go, they struggle by themselves and think this is just a me problem, she’s not feeling this way obviously. A lot of people don’t get help.

Active Minds is a good place that acts as a comforting type of zone rather than the stress and anxiety that comes with going to a therapist. I think it’s a great place for students particularly to connect with other students and realize that they’re not the only one struggling and that it’s ok to ask for help…

I think we still have a long way to go on campuses. I think that bringing Active Minds to campuses is definitely putting the foot in the door and making the conversation begin, but I also think that so many people are still stigmatizing it and still putting it off as, oh I don’t have a problem so it doesn’t matter. And I think that by changing the atmosphere on college campuses to make it more accepting it will slowly make people realize that its ok, and help isn’t a sign of weakness, and reaching out is not you giving up and being vulnerable, it’s you being strong enough to admit, I’m having a tough time and I need help…

So, getting the help that I needed really changed my life honestly. And I want other people to see that it’s ok to reach out for help and see that there is hope, whether it’s the darkest of days, I feel that I’ve been there, but there is always going to be a brighter day. And I think Active Minds does a good job of helping people see that there is a brighter side to things.

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November Chapter of the Month: Ithaca College http://activemindsblog.org/november-chapter-of-the-month-ithaca-college/ Fri, 02 Dec 2016 14:29:48 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=5940 A big congratulations to Ithaca College, our Chapter of the Month for November. All of us at the Active Minds National Office are beyond impressed by your efforts and are proud to be able to share your accomplishments with other members.

By partnering with other departments, organizations, and campus groups, Ithaca has cultivated strong relationships with a diverse range of students.  Of these include the Psychology and Sociology Departments, Student Government, Diversity/Multicultural office, Student Health office, Admissions/Orientation, LGBTQ groups, Culturally-based student groups, as well as other health and wellness groups.

This year, Ithaca has accomplished an array of endeavors. Most recently, their chapter shared the most stories on Giving Tuesday, using the hashtag #BecauseofActiveMinds to express how the organization has impacted their lives and communities. They took part in the suicide prevention month campaign, “The World Needs You Here,” selling bracelets to raise funds and awareness.

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Their chapter conducted over 8 original programs this quarter, reaching up to 80 active attendees at their Moment of Silence, Moment of Action event; a vigil for suicide prevention and mental health advocacy, at which members called upon their peers to honor the 1,100 students who die by suicide each year, shared resources and invited participants to take part in small group discussions. The display consisted of 1,100 decorated luminaries on the academic quad lawn, which were decorated by students who stopped by the Active Minds table in the week prior to the event.

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“The Moment of Silence, Moment of Action” event was their favorite memory from the quarter with us, as it was their first time doing it, causing them to really rally together to pull it off. They also conducted other successful Suicide Prevention Month programming. One being #ReasonsISpeak, tabling, posters, and a student-led panel. They estimate that about 250 students participated or interacted with their Suicide Prevention displays and programs.

 

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The panel for suicide awareness and prevention, entitled “Let’s Talk,” brought together students to share stories about their personal experiences with suicide loss survival and suicide attempt survival. The discussion was subsequently opened up to a Q&A with the audience. Active Minds members, in conjunction with Speak Your Mind, a student panel, moderated the conversation to ensure a safe environment, and also provided information and resources.

Other programs included “Scare Away the Stigma,” a presentation on how certain Halloween tropes perpetuate the stigma surrounding mental health and engender negative views towards individuals with mental illnesses, by way of horror movies, haunted houses in asylums, stigmatized costumes and the like.  They also held two other Autumn-themed events, a Trick-Or-Treat Fundraiser, consisting of selling candy, and an Apply Picking & Baking social outing. Additional events include their participation in a walk for suicide prevention and a board game night.

When asked about their chapter’s strengths and their success with Giving Tuesday, their Chapter President, Alex Lopez, stated that they were “amazed at how much we raised, I really didn’t expect it. I think one of the strengths of our chapter is our strong base of general body members who are willing to be vulnerable and share their stories, whether through our Speak Your Mind Panel program or during social media campaigns.”

The integration of “Speak Your Mind” programs into classrooms, has also proven to be a very strong asset in their community. From our standpoint, it seems as though creativity and mere presence on campus are also among their most notable strengths.

Another major achievement was being highlighted by the media. In November, their school publication, The Ithacan, had a piece entitled “CAPS’ wait times increase as more students request services.” The piece described IC Active Minds as a “club dedicated to raising awareness to mental illness on Ithaca College’s campus.”

Just taking a look at their events page on Facebook shows how dedicated the Ithaca Chapter is. They have held countless other events such as, most recently, a general body discussion on Mental Health & Prisons, a Krispy Kreme fundraiser, a Q&A with a psychiatrist. Additionally, much like their Mental Health & Prisons program, they have held programs discussing mental health in relation to veterans, politics, medication, as well as the LGBTQ community and coming out. Even more programming included a family game night, and a Rocky Horror Picture Show Social Event.

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This tireless chapter has even more programming in the upcoming week, with “De Stress Fest” taking place December 14, in an effort to promote positive mental health as students commence Finals Week. Chapter members and students alike will be doing yoga, meditating and making arts & crafts. Ithaca’s ingenuity is clear in their choice of craft, making glitter jars, also called “calm down jars.” Students will also be able to play with kinetic sand, and enjoy Moe’s catering.

Keep up the incredible work, Ithaca!! And good luck on finals.

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