Active Minds aims to change mental health stigma

More than 16 percent of college students or college-aged people in the U.S. have “seriously considered” suicide.

Active Minds Mizzou is trying to eliminate the stigma that surrounds mental illness. The student-run organization does this by promoting mental health awareness through various events and through peer outreach.

Active Minds Mizzou was adopted by the Wellness Resource Center in 2013, Active Minds advisor Christine Glissmann said, but it has been on campus for about 10 years. It was housed in the Counseling Center before moving to the Wellness Resource Center.

Most recently, group members hosted a bake sale in the MU Student Center on Feb. 17. They will also be organizing Stress Less Week in April. Currently, the organization is in the application process for Send Silence Packing, an event which would bring 1,100 backpacks to campus to represent the number of college students who take their own lives each year.

More than 16 percent of college students or college-aged people in the United States have "seriously considered" suicide, according to the (Suicide Prevention Resource Center)[].

Suicide prevention is just one facet of mental health awareness, Glissmann said.

"Those numbers are why we do what we do," she said. "The events and speakers start the conversation. It gets the community talking. We want to utilize the student voice to raise mental health awareness."

Active Minds Mizzou is just one of 422 chapters nationwide under the umbrella of the national nonprofit Active Minds. The nonprofit was founded in 2000 by a college student at Penn after her brother took his own life, according to its website.

In addition to putting on events, Active Minds Mizzou provides four types of presentations about mental health that they give to other groups. These presentations cover the topics of stress, anxiety, listening and the mental illness stigma.

"We like to inform our peers on how you can help, how you can talk to people, how to fight the stigma," said senior Rachel Dutton, the presentation tri-director. "I enjoy it because my reason for joining was educating people. It was one of those things that I didn't know about until it affected me personally. Since I didn't know about it, I figured other people didn't, either. People actually want to learn and to listen, and it's fun to give people resources."

Junior Anthony Orso, the co-recruitment chairman, said he would call the group an “activist organization.”

"The stigma is very detrimental," Orso said. "You're ostracized by people. People think of prejudice as race, gender or sexual orientation, but mental illness is a part of it, too, and I think what we do is really important in raising awareness and affecting change."

Active Minds also promotes the Ask. Listen. Refer. program on campus, a statewide suicide prevention campaign to train people to identify and respond to warning signs.

"(Mental illness) affects so many people," senior Megan Fleming said. "It affects one in four adults. That's a really big deal. It's really important to be aware of how to have those conversations, even if you don't struggle with it yourself. It's also good to be prepared and recognize the warning signs in others and in yourself."

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