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Changing the Conversation about Mental Health

The Active Minds “Send Silence Packing” campaign promotes suicide prevention on college campuses (Active Minds website). The Active Minds “Send Silence Packing” campaign promotes suicide prevention on college campuses (Active Minds website).

MaryClare Colombo, K’19, envisions a Kalamazoo College that’s not afraid to talk about mental illness. This year Colombo and a group of friends plan to start a new student organization next Fall called Active Minds. This group will be a chapter of the nationwide coalition that empowers college students to speak openly about mental illness to promote education and seeking self-help.

“The first thing people need to do is to learn how to talk about mental health in appropriate ways,” said Colombo. “More people have mental illnesses than you may think.”

50% of Americans will suffer from mental health challenges is their lifetime, and one in five college students lives with a mental health condition, according to the Active Minds website.

Despite this sweeping issue, 2/3 of college students do not receive treatment for mental health issues due to the stigma and shame surrounding the subject.

“People don’t talk about it (mental health), and they don’t know how to talk to their professors about it if they need extra time or something,” said Colombo.

Colombo’s current Living Learning House focuses on mental health issues on K’s campus, and she hopes to continue this work next year with the Active Minds group, of which she is currently applying to be a chapter.

As a part of the national organization, comprised of more than 400 chapters in the United States, the student group will have funds and support for campus-wide social and educational events, such as bringing in guest speakers or tabling for mental health awareness.

The group will have regular meetings, alongside larger campus-wide events.

I hope that other people can learn about mental illnesses–how to recognize the symptoms and to get themselves or their friends help.

Colombo described one specific event called Send Silence Packing, a traveling exhibit of donated backpacks representing the lives of more than 1,000 college students claimed each year by suicide. Active Minds displays the backpacks in a high-traffic area on campus to increase awareness for mental health issues and promote suicide prevention.

Active Minds was started by a student in 2003 at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2016, 5.4 million college students had access to Active Minds, which focuses on peer-to-peer contact. This is crucial because research shows 67% of students tell friends they’re feeling suicidal before anyone else.

“I hope that other people can learn about mental illnesses–how to recognize the symptoms and to get themselves or their friends help,” said Colombo.

Students are more than 20% more likely to receive treatment on campuses perceived to be supportive of mental health issues, according to the Active Minds website.

K’s Active Minds group will partner with the counseling center and potentially the Office of Student Involvement next year to bring fun and educational mental-health focused events to the campus, as well as promote K’s already existing mental health support resources.

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Changing the Conversation about Mental Health