Uncategorized – Active Minds Blog http://activemindsblog.org Changing the conversation about mental health Wed, 21 Dec 2016 21:09:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.6.1 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.


Vanessa Zimmerman
Active Minds at Ithaca College, NY


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 never-give-up

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.

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.

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.




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.

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.


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.


“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.




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.


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.

One Second Every Day http://activemindsblog.org/one-second-every-day/ Wed, 30 Nov 2016 20:03:51 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=5897 I knew from the moment I accepted the position that going on tour with Send Silence Packing was going to be a once in a lifetime experience. Of course the prospect of experiencing something so amazing made me excited but it simultaneously planted a seed of anxiety. How in the world could I capture this time and be able to remember the details?

I’ve always wanted to be a journaler. I admire those who can express their thoughts to themselves on paper and are disciplined enough to do it everyday. I would love to have a record of my thoughts and experiences from any particular time period in my life and be able to reference those notes whenever I’m feeling nostalgic. Alas, every time I’ve attempted a journal it ends up being a notebook full of lists. I list things, it’s what I do. Listing is super helpful to remember tasks I need to do but not great when I want to remember what I actually did that day or how I felt about it. Knowing this about myself and determined to capture the trip in a meaningful way, I knew I was going to have to get creative.

Just before the tour began I remembered a TED Talk I had seen a while back about taking daily videos. After re-watching Cesar Kuriyama’s TED Talk about his 1 second everyday project I thought it would be the perfect way to capture my experience with Send Silence Packing. So I downloaded his app and pressed record! In the beginning, since I’m not a photographer or videographer, it didn’t feel natural to reach for my phone and take a video of random things I did.  But once I got through the first week and had that 7 second video, I was hooked. The tour by nature is a diverse adventure but committing to documenting the trip in this way made me more adventurous! The app was always in the back of my mind and it pushed me to get out of the hotel room more, explore those small towns, and take notice of my surroundings.

Now that the tour is over I have a 78 second video to show for it and I have to say, it’s pretty awesome! It captures what life was really like during the tour. It shows everything from the long hours on the road to mundane hotel lounging to beautiful California beach days.

The most important aspect of this video for me is that it triggers my memory.  After seeing just one second from that day I can remember not only the full event but so many other memories that are attached to it.

Recording one second everyday made me more adventurous, kept me honest, and helps me remember.

Annual Awards Winners http://activemindsblog.org/annual-awards-winners/ Mon, 14 Nov 2016 14:51:21 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=5859 award_winners_blogpostLast week we hosted the National Mental Health on Campus Conference in Sacramento, CA, where we announced the winners of the 2015-2016 Active Minds awards. We’re proud to share the winners with you on the blog today. Congratulations to all!

  • Chapter of the Year 2015-2016: Active Minds at Auburn University
  • Student Leader of the Year 2015-2016: Andrea Nguyen
  • Advisor of the Year 2015-2016: Stephanie Preston, Active Minds at San Jose State University
  • Alumni of the Year 2015-2016: Dayna Altman, alumnus, Active Minds at Northeastern University
  • Programming Innovation Award: Active Minds at Tufts University
  • Fundraising Innovation Award: Active Minds at Denison University
  • Margaret Clark Morgan Transformational Change Award: Active Minds at University of Portland
  • Road Runner Award: Active Minds at Elkhorn South High School

We’re so proud of you, Stigma Fighters!


Ways to Cope with Post-Election Stress http://activemindsblog.org/ways-to-cope-with-post-election-stress/ Thu, 10 Nov 2016 20:23:05 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=5866 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.

Three Pieces of Advice for Transitioning Veterans http://activemindsblog.org/three-pieces-of-advice-for-transitioning-veterans/ Thu, 10 Nov 2016 13:00:34 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=5850 Bryan Adams is a member of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau. Bring him to your campus or organization to speak about mental health.


Through the drones of machinery and roaring turbines, a calm voice came over the loudspeaker of the C-141 troop transport plane, “please prepare for landing.” I had been in Iraq for over a year on what seemed like a dark and twisted Groundhog Day. Stepping off of the plane in Germany was a surreal experience. The lush green hills and puffy white clouds draped against the blue sky were a far cry from the deserts of Iraq. I had never felt so relieved in my life.

After being wounded during an ambush, I came closer than I had ever imagined to dying. My life as an Infantryman in Iraq was a mix of long hours and overwhelming boredom, peppered with brief moments of pure terror, racing adrenaline, and extreme focus.  Conversations with friends ran the gamut of pop culture, politics, sports, music, and goals. There was a lot of time to think about home, about family and friends, and about what I wanted to do when I got out of the military.

The first few months back in the United States I was riding an almost euphoric emotional high, spending time with family and friends and enjoying the freedoms our country has to offer. For me, trying to settle back in to civilian life was the priority. Eventually the newness of it all faded away and I was left with the realization that I had no real plan. I was 21 years old and had spent three of my formative early adult years in a highly structured environment where “right place, right time, and right uniform” was the overarching mantra to the lower enlisted soldier. Having choices and excessive free time were a welcomed, yet unfamiliar luxury.

I became consumed with anxious thoughts that kept me awake at night. Depression crept in as the reality of what I had lived through began to fully sink it. The guilt of surviving, while other soldiers who were stronger, faster, and more proficient did not, was hard to digest. Frustration permeated my daily life as the larger questions loomed over almost every moment of my existence.

Admitting that I needed help was one of the toughest realizations I came to in my life. Stigmas are a very real barrier to mental health treatment. From my personal experience, they are even more pronounced in the military, where not being able to pull your weight can lead to mission failure or getting someone killed.  Through supportive friends, family, and caregivers I accepted the realization that I wasn’t able to do it on my own and I sought treatment for what was eventually diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

bryan-adams-am-conference-2010After years of focus, time, and hard work I was able to fully appreciate and respect the importance of mental health. I felt the need to educate others, to change the conversation about mental health. That is what lead me to Active Minds— their mission is to eliminate stigmas on college campuses.

I found myself working to raise awareness for mental health treatment through speaking engagements and publications; my current duties also include working in veteran’s services at Rutgers University, where I have learned a lot about the re-integration process and mental health.  I do not however, consider myself an expert; I feel that I am more of an observer and fellow traveler on the journey. I want to share some of the practices which I have seen as very effective not only to my personal situation but many returning veterans.

Below you will find three recommendations I have for you to keep in mind if you are a transitioning veteran or working with transitioning veterans.

  1. Have a plan:
  • Develop a concrete plan of action several months before leaving the service. Smaller goals      are an easy way to measure progress and build confidence.
  • If you plan on attending college after leaving the military it is a good idea to start researching schools up to a year in advance as many have early admissions deadlines. Learn about their rankings, majors, accolades, and veteran programs. Start contacting them with any questions you may have; there is no such thing as a dumb question.
  • If you are looking to start working immediately afterwards, take advantage of the career and professional development resources available to you as a veteran. Veteran friendly companies, job fairs, and job placement companies for veterans are all great resources. A simple internet search can yield local and federal hiring events that could connect you with Human Resource professionals and hiring managers.

Much like in the military, you should dress for success. Make sure you prepare for your interviews by practicing with others. Do research on the company, its goals, and major initiatives. Tailor your resume to the specific company you are applying for and utilize resources available to translate your training and experience into civilian terminology.

  1. Take Care of Yourself: Maintaining a healthy mind and body will make your ability to deal with stress, change, and adversity more manageable. It has been shown that as many as one in four adults have some form of diagnosable mental health disorder. The Department of Veterans Affairs offers a variety of treatments and psychiatric services which can be tailored to your individual needs. You can also file for disability claims for any injuries or illnesses you believe you may have developed as a result of your service. You may be eligible to receive financial compensation as a result. If you are going to file a disability claim I recommended seeking assistance from a specialized claims officer or veteran’s service organization. If you have private insurance you can utilize providers within your network who may have specializations in working with veterans.

There are many other holistic approaches which you can take advantage of as a returning veteran. Mindfulness practices, meditation, yoga, outdoor recreation, regular exercise regimens, and group activities which promote healthy coping mechanisms have all been proven beneficial. A service animal can also act as a day-to-day support mechanism to help you navigate through life. Seeking treatment should never be viewed as weakness; it takes a strong person to take the tough steps necessary in recovery.

  1. Continue to Serve: As veterans we are used to having a mission and serving the country for the greater good. This sense of service runs strong in us all and it is important that we continue to fulfill this need. Community service and helping others is one of the highest forms of self-actualization one can achieve. There are many opportunities for veterans to give back to their communities and country. We can use our skills, knowledge, and experience to improve the lives of others who are less fortunate.
October Chapter of the Month: IPFW http://activemindsblog.org/october-chapter-of-the-month-ipfw/ Mon, 31 Oct 2016 12:00:34 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=5821 stomping-ipfwCongratulations to October’s Chapter of the Month, Indiana University — Purdue University Fort Wayne! All of us at the national office are so proud of what they have accomplished on their campus. They have truly done a terrific job raising awareness and getting their peers to fight stigma.

One of their initiatives this fall was a “Stomp Out Stigma” campaign. IPFW Chapter members had some paint, a banner, a strong message, and a boot. Students were asked to figuratively, and literally, “stomp” out the stigma that engenders a negative view toward mental illness. These boots were not made for walking… they were made for stigma fighting!

therapy-dog-ipfw Other amazing achievements include “Laugh More Game Night,” providing information about Active Minds to freshmen at orientation, tabling for suicide prevention week – which also included community performers and poets. (And this is all since the beginning of this school year!)

In the past, IPFW has demonstrated their ability to involve students outside of Active Minds, using their ingenuity to attract students of all kinds! Ideas like therapy pet events, share a smile, positivity note chains, wing nights, and movie nights, have made their chapter a clear presence on campus.

Not only have they successfully advocated for mental health on campus, but they also take part in the initiatives of the Fort Wayne community. Last year, they participated in a suicide prevention walk, which was organized by Fort Wayne. They also had a poignant fundraising campaign in which they sold purple utility flags to commemorate lost loved ones.

Some of their other countless endeavors include Valentine’s Day candy gram fundraisers, holding discussions regarding eating disorders during Eating Disorder Awareness Week, participating in IPFW’s Wellness Fair, a Bowl-a-Thon, helping with the a walk for eating disorders, Stress Less Week, and many more. The faculty and students of IPFW are aware of Active Minds and the role the chapter plays. The chapter has advocated for and achieved policy change on a campus-wide level; they are in the final stages of adding the number for a suicide-prevention hotline to the back of student IDs. Additionally, they have been invited to events and asked to contribute whenever the topic of suicide prevention comes up. This awareness has led to a growing interest and buzz in regards to the conversation about mental health. IPFW also has a grant called COMPASS training, which trains individuals to aid in suicide prevention. Many of the Active Minds chapter members have taken the training and have done their part in promoting it to others.

suicide-prevention-week-ipfw share-a-smile-ipfw

It is also notable to mention that IPFW manages to successfully run their Active Minds chapter and engage other students on a commuter campus! (This is no easy feat.) Chapter President, Manal Saeed, attributes their successes to the contributions of chapter members. “Thankfully there are great members that are always bringing their A-game, and [are] ready to go with great energy and initiatives that are new and upbeat, and keep our campus as well as our community hungry and excited for more.” She also stated that much of their ability to connect and attract members is the way in which they approach them. “Our biggest help is not telling them to join yet another organization, but [to] join a family of fun and incredible experiences.”

It is easy to see why Active Minds at IPFW does such a great job! The way Manal speaks about the dedication and passion of her fellow members reflects the highest degree of respect. However, she does continue to stress the vital role that student advisor and counselor Floie Stouder plays. “She is the best part of our chapter, and we, the officers, are super lucky to be working with her, and aren’t able to put into words how much she has supported us and how much we appreciate her dedication to our chapter!”

stomp-out-stigma-ipfwThank you Active Minds at IPFW for all that you do for your community! We are certain that this school year will be filled with even more successes and strides towards eliminating the stigma. Keep it up!