I have been involved with Active Minds in some capacity for the last 8+ years. First, as a chapter member, then a speaker, then an advisor, and finally a staff member. And although I have recently moved on from my staff role at Active Minds, I will continue to speak.
Let me tell you why.
I got into student health and wellness work in 2006. I had been hired as a Residence Hall Director and the Campus Wellness Programs Coordinator at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. I adored Lawrence, and I particularly loved the time I spent with the fierce student wellness advocates I worked with there. These student leaders were passionate about all types of wellness, but particularly mental health. And as someone who had struggled severely with her own mental health and was still in the early years of her recovery, my passions matched theirs.
We did a lot of wonderful work together and brought a multitude of programming to campus. We helped people seek counseling services and taught stress reduction techniques. Students knew who we were and how to find us, but we still lost two students to suicide in my two years there, and a student mentee of mine lost one of her best friends from back home.
That was the first time I’d ever been touched deeply by suicide. I had been passionately advocating for safeguards against these tragedies, but this was the first time I came face-to-face with their reality.
So, I spoke even louder.
I left Lawrence to get my master’s degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs at University of Connecticut. I worked in the Vice President for Student Affairs Office and interned in Counseling and Mental Health Services. This is how I heard about the students who took their own lives at UConn. A chapter of Active Minds started while I was there, and I joined.
I spoke even louder.
I attended my first Active Minds Conference at The George Washington University in Washington, DC in 2009. It was at this conference that I heard the incredible story of Jordan Burnham’s survival of his suicide attempt and the messages of help and hope he was spreading in the aftermath. It was at that conference the Active Minds announced they would be taking on a speakers bureau and attendees were encouraged to apply.
I applied. I trained. I auditioned. I was invited to join.
I gained a platform and a microphone. I spoke even louder.
After advising a chapter of Active Minds at Bard College for a year, I was honored to be invited to join the national staff as Program Manager for Student-Led Initiatives. I began working on Active Minds’ awareness campaigns, developing PostSecretU, and asking students what else would help them achieve their mental health advocacy goals. In that process, I found my community, my family.
We spoke together.
Over the last six years, I have worked with my family at Active Minds to create programs and campaigns that raise the profile of mental health awareness on over 400 campuses. In that time, many of our chapters have lost students to suicide, and we’ve spoken up in support. We’ve also lost chapter alumni to suicide, and we’ve spoken up with broken hearts, wishing we could have done just one more thing to prevent it.
It’s been hard to learn that speaking up doesn’t save everyone. It’s sometimes easy to focus on that fact. But as I reflect on over eight years of mental health advocacy with Active Minds, I am reminded of the many people who have told us, “You spoke up when I didn’t have a voice. You spoke up when I needed it. That’s why I’m still here.”
I don’t speak for anyone when I speak up for suicide prevention. I speak as an invitation for anyone else in earshot to step up to the microphone and tell someone they care about just how important they are and how much they’re needed here.
We can’t save everyone by speaking up, but we can save someone. That’s why I speak, and I hope you will, too.
If you or someone you know is in distress, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “BRAVE” to 741-741 to reach Crisis Text Line. Both services are available 24/7.