By Jenna Shelton
Cover image by Megan Lanham
In Aug. 2019, Lewis and Clark Community College (L&C) joined the ranks of more than 800 other campuses nationwide when the student organization, Active Minds, joined the multitude of other clubs and organizations offered at L&C. Active Minds is an organization that is run by students and for students, it encourages members to open up about mental health issues and change the conversation and viewpoint for years to come. Active Minds at L&C would like students to know that, “It is okay to not be okay”, and that there is help available should anyone need it; that no one should ever have to struggle alone.
By empowering young adults and encouraging them to speak openly and freely about mental health, the stigma and rate of suicide can be reduce, helping individuals seek help before it’s too late.
When Active Minds at L&C first began in Aug. of 2019, it was an extremely successful club. The meetings were always packed, there were a large number of students that were running for elected positions and ideas on how to help students open dialogue about and de-stigmatize mental health were always overflowing. Unfortunately, COVID-19 struck and the world-wide pandemic caused this club to be put on pause, just as they had gotten traction, essentially causing the club to start over.
“It is hard enough getting any new club or organization started at a college, but at L&C, it is required that a club declaration form must be filled out stating between 7-10 members. You also have to name officers and their positions, and you must get a faculty member to agree to become your advisor and take on the responsibility for the group.
“But when you’re dealing with something like mental health issues, it may be even harder to get people to come forward and interact. Because mental health is something that has been so historically kept quiet and not talked about. That is why it’s so critical that an organization like this exists at L&C and what’s so great about Active Minds, there’s so much peer-to-peer support that it doesn’t feel like you are alone,” said Student Government President, Marenike Moyegun.
Normally, at L&C when the semester or term ends and the elected officials in an organization move on, there is some kind of preparation for the newly elected body taking over. Regrettably, when campus went virtual in 2020, Active Minds had no idea if and when they might be allowed back on campus. Preparation for transfer of power was not made, making things challenging for the new president of Active Minds when the time came to start holding meetings virtually.
“To understand what Active Minds stands for one should understand how the group came to be,” Active Minds President, Damion Posey, said.
The group was originally formed by Alison Malmon when she was a junior at the University of Pennsylvania. Malmon was inspired to start Active Minds after her only sibling and older brother, Brian Marlon, was lost to suicide during his senior year at Columbia University.
After being described as a smart, popular and fun student throughout high school, Brian Marlon struggled with depression and psychosis shortly after arriving at Columbia University. Hiding his symptoms from everyone for three years, Marlon started treatment for schizoaffective disorder during a home visit in his senior year, but his underlying depression was not addressed.
Continuing to hide his symptoms and disorders from friends, Brian’s depression was left untreated and he returned to school. A year and a half later, on Mar. 24, 2000, Brian Marlon ended his life.
Alison realized that there were many people that had stories similar to Brian’s and they too were suffering in silence, thinking they were totally alone. In reality, a majority of mental illnesses strike for the first time between the ages of 14 to 24 years old, when youths are still in school or college. It has also been found that suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students, so Alison recognized that continuing to be silent about mental illness and suicide was no longer an option.
Malmon saw at Penn that no one was talking about mental illness; the stigma and shame was preventing students from speaking out and letting those one of every five college students who are living in silence continue to do so, without the support of their peers.
Malmon felt if people started talking about it, maybe things would get better. She wanted to encourage students who need help to seek it; she wanted to prevent tragedies like her brothers and combat the stigma of mental illness. Finding nothing like that already in existence on her campus, Alison created her own, naming it “Open Minds” at the time. Their number one goal was to spread the word that seeking help is nothing to be ashamed of; it is actually a sign of strength.
Within two years, Malmon had graduated, but the group had continued and word had spread. Other colleges had reached out and opened their own chapters. Soon, a national office was opened in Washington, D.C. and the group was made into a nonprofit. The name was changed to “Active Minds” to reflect the groups focus on student advocacy and action in mental health.
In the 16 years that Active Minds has been in schools and on campuses throughout the country, they have been able to reach out to over 600,000 students every year with the different events, campaigns, programs, advocacy, outreach and other awareness activities they host. Their goal to change the conversation about mental health is an important factor when trying to de-stigmatize the image of those with mental health issues.
Posey said, “Active Minds at L&C is a club that promotes mental health awareness. We are here to end the stigma surrounding mental health on our campus. From details for hotlines on flyers around campus, to the Active Minds Send Silence Packing, to planning events and speakers that promote others to support each other and know that they aren’t alone; through education, research and advocacy we are determined to help others and be there when there’s no one else to be there, we’ll show you that you matter; that there is help and we can help you find that help, whether it’s here on campus with Renee Bauer in the counseling services or if they need to direct you to outside services.”
L&C Active Minds advisors Alice Bunjan and Chrissie Chapman believe, like the National Chapter of Active Minds, that the students will be the drive of change and would like to see the club’s direction be motivated by its members vision and voice.
The students and advisors hope, and main goal, for Active Minds at L&C is to open up a healthy dialogue about mental health and help students understand that at some point in everyone’s lives, they are most likely going to be affected by mental health, either personal or through a loved one. People, not just students, need to know how to handle mental health topics and where to turn for assistance in a time of need; no one should ever have to face these issues alone.
Posey wants students to understand that while the club is meeting virtually for now, there is still support available for all students at any time. The L&C Active Minds Facebook page is currently up and running and will be adding new material about the organization and what services are available or what is online on a weekly basis. The next Active Minds meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021 at 3 p.m. The link to join the zoom meeting will be posted on their club Facebook page, along with any other important information pertaining to the organization.
For more information on the club, you can check out the national webpage at www.activeminds.org or reach out to Active Minds at L&C President, Damion Posey at firstname.lastname@example.org or Alice Bunjan at email@example.com.