Elizabeth is a member of the Active Minds Student Advisory Committee and a chapter leader at the University Alaska at Anchorage. Learn more about the Student Advisory Committee.
Shortly before I had begun college, my sister had survived a mental health crisis that landed her in the mental health unit of the local hospital. She stayed there for a week, and every time I talked to her on the phone I felt helpless. I had never even heard of bipolar disorder before she was diagnosed. I didn’t know how to encourage her. I didn’t know what to do to help and what not to do to make her symptoms worse. I was in over my head and I hated myself for not being able to interact with someone I loved so much.
I promised myself I would never feel so helpless again. I would educate myself about mental health so the next time a loved one became sick, I would know what to do. I would not sit by and watch next time. I would get in and fight for them.
The choice to join a mental health organization in college was obvious then. I attended my first Active Minds meeting with fire in my blood. I was going to become the most passionate mental health superhero my college had ever seen. I would do it for my sister.
Why did I spend countless hours organizing depression screening events, teaching suicide prevention classes, and preparing eating disorder awareness displays? For my sister. Why did I voraciously read research on mental illness treatment options? Why did I talk endlessly about the need to end the stigma associated with mental health? Why did I forge an identity as a mental health activist and stigma fighter? For her. It was all for her.
Until one day it wasn’t just about her. Fall of my sophomore year I faced my own battle with depression. All the things I once enjoyed—classes, my on-campus job, volunteering, even my relationship with my boyfriend—seemed like hard work. I struggled to get up in the morning. I struggled to maintain my status as the hard-working and super involved student that I once was. For months I struggled. And I thought it would never end.
But during those long, dark days Active Minds was there. Active Minds reminded me that depression was not my identity. Active Minds told me I was not alone. Active Minds whispered in my ear that I could always reach out for help.
After spending a year as a mental health activist encouraging people to seek appropriate help, I finally took my own advice. I started attended therapy. I made lifestyle changes. I surrounded myself with positive, supportive people. Things got better. They really did. The message I had been trying to spread across my campus was also true for me: Help is available. Help works.
Today I am still a mental health activist. I do it for my sister. I do it for the thousands of people living around me who feel isolated and trapped by their mental health condition. I do it because my state has the highest suicide rates among youth in the entire country. I do it for the hope of a society that is healthier and happier. But I also do it for myself. I do it so I can face my future without the fear of my depression taking over. Before all else, I am my own activist. I thank Active Minds for teaching me to not only fight for the wellness of others, but to also fight for myself.