Active Minds organization fights mental illness stigma and promotes wellness
Increasing communication, awareness and education are just a few of the ways the Active Minds at Rutgers is working to change the conversation about mental health on campus.
The purpose of the group is to promote mental wellness and to ensure that those struggling with mental health are aware that they are not alone, said Austin Wong, president of Active Minds and a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences senior.
“It is especially important to be aware of mental wellness because college stressors definitely play a part in students’ overall well-being," Wong said.
Active Minds at Rutgers serves as a liaison between students and the mental health community by providing information about available resources, according to the organization's website.
“During club meetings, I usually brief members on upcoming events that they can participate in. We like to run events that are in line with our message. For example, last semester we had a ‘make your own stress ball’ event,” Wong said.
Kaelyn Engenhart, a Rutgers Business School junior, said the club is new to campus and is still very young.
At the moment, Active Minds only has about five active members excluding club officers, Engenhart said.
“While there seems to be much interest and agreement about our club values within the student body, we would like to see some more student involvement in the future,” she said.
Active Minds also provides speaker and community events, which engage students to begin talking about mental issues and the effect the college atmosphere has on them, Wong said.
“In the past, we worked collaboratively with Rutgers Counseling, ADAP, & Psychiatric services (CAPS) as well as another mental health club called To Write Love on Her Arms, to run a screening of a mental health documentary. The documentary followed the story of various individuals through their personal mental health struggles,” Wong said.
The club has been working closely with Rutgers Student Counseling staff member, Annmarie Wacha-Montes, since their inception in 2015. Watcha-Montes uses her experience to host “Campus Connect Training” for student suicide prevention, Wong said.
The Assistant Director of the Department of Student Involvement and Club Advisor Susan Romano, said the student administrators of the club are highly capable and the "GetInvolved" online page for the organization has a plethora of information about the group.
“As a founding member of the club, it is so rewarding to see how we change the attitude that our members have towards mental health. I think the more we discuss issues the better we have been with weakening the stigma that our members may have,” Engenhart said.
One of the club’s greatest challenges has been expanding their influence beyond their immediate members to the larger Rutgers community, she said.
Engenhart said she is confident that as the organization continues to grow, they will break down the stigma of mental illness more and more.
The National Active Minds associates their fight to weaken and end the stigma of mental illness with the hashtag “#stigmafighter," according to their national site.
“By spreading the message of mental health awareness and acceptance of mental health issues, our club hopes to decrease the amount of negative actions that are taken in the name of whatever personal mental health struggles that a Rutgers student can have,” Wong said.
He said the level of inclusivity or exclusivity in high school environments can directly correlate to whether students develop symptoms of social anxiety or depression.
“College campuses can foster similar social climates depending on the immediate social group that a student has,” Wong said.
According to their Facebook page, the organization puts the "active" in Active Minds by posting frequently and with great variety.
Wong said the organization does not require nor hope that the students involved have first-hand experience with mental issues, but that they simply know how to discuss the matter sensitively and effectively.
“Even if students are not dealing with mental health issues themselves, everyone should know how sensitive the situations surrounding mental health can be," Wong said. "By promoting awareness, we, as a community, become proactive about mental health issues."
Brielle Diskin is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.