Redefining what it means to have a mental health day

A new movement is spreading through the nation’s universities, and UVM students are joining the train in the name of helping others and reexamining the meaning of mental health. Active Minds is that train. It is a new non-profit organization that aims to raise consciousness on college campuses about mental health and wellness, Annie Cressey, a health educator and the forerunner of the UVM chapter of Active Minds, said. There are currently 213 student-led chapters nationwide, including one at Middlebury College, according to the Active Minds website. UVM is just starting its own chapter, so it has yet to be added to the online list of participating colleges.The organization provides a forum to talk openly about mental health issues and encourages examining how our language can be insensitive toward the mental health community, Cressey said.”How many times have you pronounced something as ‘crazy’ without a second thought?” Active Minds was created in 2001 by former University of Pennsylvania student Alison Malmon, whose brother Brian took his own life after dealing with depression and psychosis for several years, according to the website. UVM juniors Kelly Andrews and Jillian Duncan, and senior Shannon McWilliam, are also helping to spearhead this chapter at UVM, Cressey said.  The four women are excited and want to encourage all students to become members. “Anyone can be a leader,” Andrews said. “We just want you to use your talents, whatever they may be,” Cressey said.The Active Minds vision statement’s goal is “to destigmatize mental health disorders by promoting open, enlightened discussion of mental health; and to create a better life for all who suffer.”There can be a stigma around mental illness where people shy away from such discussions, Cressey said. On most college campuses there is a club for nearly everything, except something like this, she said. “Helping others is a great way to help yourself,” Andrews said.  “By participating in this cause and helping others,  you will come away with lessons learned as well.” People should come away with compassion, she said. “Don’t pass judgment. You never know what someone might be going through,” McWilliam said. An experience like Active Minds would be a great thing to have in your life “toolbox,” Cressey said.  “The more we know, the more we can be aware of others and enhance our interaction with people.”   Future meetings have yet to be scheduled, but be ready for future updates.You can also visit www.activeminds.org for more information or join the UVM Active Minds Facebook group.