Active Minds think alike at mental health event

by Christina Jedra / Beacon Staff • October 11, 2012

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Participants write inspirational messages on note cards with crayons and markers.
Participants write inspirational messages on note cards with crayons and markers.

“You are worth it,” “Love yourself,” and “Reach out — someone will hold on” were scribbled on index cards with other Crayola-colored messages and doodles scattered among hats and props on a table in the Multipurpose Room. Nearby, students hit balloons and danced to catchy tunes. 

On Tuesday night, Emerson’s Active Minds hosted National Day Without Stigma to help educate students about mental illnesses. The new club is a branch of the national organization that promotes the event. Emerson branch founder Ashley Cunningham said that 20-25 students have expressed interest in the club. 

“Active Minds promotes an open environment to talk about mental health, educates the student body, and creates a connection between the students and the counseling center,” said Cunningham, a freshman marketing communication major.

Free snacks and information about the organization were made available to the estimated 45 attendees. There was also a photo booth station where students could pose with props and the cause-related messages they created.

Cunningham said her goal with the new club is to start a conversation about psychological stability. 

“I think the biggest part is making it not a scary thing to talk about,” she said. “People see mental illness as this weird thing that you can’t talk about when it would be like you saying, ‘I don’t want to talk about your diabetes.’ Having diabetes is just like having depression. There’s medication for it. There’s things you have to do.”

Freshman attendee Audrey Borst said she came to the event to discuss a topic she says she often represses. 

“There’s a lot in society working against you,” said the visual and media arts major.  “It’s important to have a positive message now and thenIn the past, I’ve had problems with depression. It’s good to find a group here with a positive image.”

Eileen McBride, an Emerson scholar- in-residence and professor of psychology, said she supports Active Minds at Emerson because she believes young people are particularly in need of positive reinforcement at school.

“I think it’s very important because mental health issues in any population are stigmatized, but I think it’s hard when you’re a college student,” she said. “You might be concerned with how other people are judging you.”

McBride said that while the study of mental disorders has come a long way, there are still great improvements to be made.

“We have a lot of history treating mental illness as something that had to be contained,” she said. “I think it’s good to be open about the conditions so that people can understand, get to know them, and ask questions.”

She emphasized that a group setting, like the one Active Minds provides, is effective in destigmatizing mental disorders because it helps participants relate to one another.

“If you went into a group and saw, ‘This is another person that has the same problem as me,’ then you look at them and think, ‘They’re just a normal person,’” she said. “That’s very reassuring.”

Cunningham said Active Minds will hold more events like Tuesday’s National Day Without Stigma as the group works on obtaining recognition from the Student Government Association. She said they will promote Eating Disorder Awareness Week in the spring and will spread the word about self-harm. 

“Mental health is something that is very near and dear to my heart,” she said. “I have a lot of friends who went through a lot in high school, and I know that people feel alone… and they feel like they’re not ‘bad enough’ to go get help when that’s just not true. They would just be happier and in a better place if people were able to talk about these things.”

Cunningham added that the fight against mental health stigmas starts with everyday changes in communication.

“People say things like, ‘Oh, she’s so bipolar,’ and that’s wrong. That’s insensitive to people that do have bipolar disorder. It’s just changing the kind of speech you use,” Cunningham said. “It’s really important to be aware of what you’re saying. Even though [mental illness] isn’t in the public eye, it’s still a part of people’s lives.”