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Active Minds members talk Mental Health Awareness Week

| Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The first week of October is Mental Health Awareness Week, an effort intended to recognize mental health issues across the country.

Hoping to bring this awareness to Notre Dame’s campus is Active Minds, a chapter of the nation-wide organization with over 400 collegiate branches and has become “the voice of young adult mental health advocacy nationwide,” according to Notre Dame Active Minds’ website.

Senior Delaney Schrenk, president of Active Minds, said she is excited for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week because of the current climate surrounding mental health issues.

“I think right now is a really unique time to be on college campuses and interested in mental health because there’s enough news and press about it that people recognize it,” she said. “But, specifically at Notre Dame, I don’t think there’s enough conversation to support any change about it. We certainly have something to work on, and we have sort of a template that’s already on the consciousness of students here.”

While the national Active Minds organization’s motto is “changing the conversation,” Schrenk said she views her club’s motto as “starting the conversation” on campus.

“It’s hard to start a conversation about it if you don’t know that other people are thinking the same things to back it up. We really try to be visible with events and just in our day-to-day conversations with other people, whether it’s officers or members, with our friends, with whoever,” she said. “If you know that there are other people that feel the same that way you do, then it becomes much easier to talk to other people. And I think that’s really where the conversation starts.”

Senior David May, vice president of Active Minds, said having these conversations about mental health would make a big difference for a large number of students.

“One of our main goals is to promote that conversation, to promote more of an environment of openness and a lack of judgement so people can become more comfortable expressing what I think a lot of us have deemed as the ‘elephant in the room,’ which is mental illness on college campuses,” he said. “It’s so prevalent and so debilitating to quite the proportion of college students.”

Sophomore Keely Thornton, a member of Active Minds, likewise said she hopes the week helps reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

“The one thing I would say is the biggest problem with Notre Dame’s campus is the stigma around it because it is a high-achieving school,” she said. “You can’t say, ‘I’m suffering with depression; I can’t get out of bed today.’ You have to say, ‘Oh, I have a stomach ache.’ You have to fake it.”

People’s lack of acceptance of mental disorders contributes to a lack of understanding, which worsens the situation, Thornton said.

“Anyone can have a panic attack. You don’t have to have an anxiety disorder to have a panic attack. It’s a very normal thing, especially at a school like Notre Dame,” she said. “The fact that people don’t even know what that looks like is a problem.”

Active Minds at Notre Dame meets regularly to have conversations about mental health, but Mental Health Awareness Week is their chance to spread their message across the entire campus. There are three major events this week. The first, “In Our Own Words,” a student story-sharing event, took place Monday night, Schrenk said.

“Students write some sort of piece about their own experiences with mental health on campus or before or at any point in their lives and experience, and they share that in whatever way they want to,” Schrenk said. “It’s meant to sort of bridge that gap between other people’s experiences and knowing that there are other people out there who are feeling similar things.”

“Send Silence Packing,” a suicide-awareness display, will be presented Wednesday on South Quad, featuring backpacks representing students who have died by suicide, as well as information and statistics about suicide on college campuses. Alison Malmon, the founder of the national organization of Active Minds, will deliver a lecture Wednesday in front of the display. She started the club at Penn State after her brother committed suicide.

“It’s meant to be a very moving presentation, something that you really can’t ignore when you see it,” May said.

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