Burlington, VT | Molly Mcghee | 975 words

After a year of planning, Kelly Black and Jordan Cutting, Sophomore Psychology majors at Champlain College, are working to have the Champlain College Chapter of Active Minds officially recognized.

Active Minds is a nonprofit organization focusing on spreading mental health awareness. With over one hundred chapters in North America, the organization has been recognized by news outlets such as CNN, and The New York Times. An article featured in The Times, written by Tamar Lewin, described the nonprofit and its many chapters as “the voice of young adult mental health advocacy nationwide.”

The introduction of Active Minds to Champlain College has been a dream of Kelly Black’s since her second semester at Champlain. During Black’s internship with Women Helping Battered Women she attended a community meeting on Mental Health awareness. At this meeting, Black met Luke Lewis, the associate director for student health and wellness at Champlain who is a counselor in Champlain’s Counseling Services. “Active Minds was a club here three years ago,” said Black. “When the club presidents graduated—it kind of fell apart. I wanted to help people, that’s just kind of a given for me, but initially I thought I had to get off campus to really do that. Luke asked me to help restart Active Minds at that community meeting but it wasn’t until I met Jordan that the Champlain Chapter of Active Minds felt doable.” 

A semester later, after struggling with the logistics of how she would start Active Minds, Black and Cutting took an Abnormal Psych class together. “We had to go out into the community and find a service that was helpful to people with mental health needs,” said Black. “Jordan and I  chose Champlain Counseling Services; we reconnected with Luke Lewis, and on our last slide we put out our pitch. Our classmates liked it and signed up, that was our official start.”

The most recent and fifth Active Minds meeting of the year had sixteen members in attendance. Each Thursday, the club meets on the top floor of Ireland. “How far we’ve come—it’s amazing,” said Black. “I would have never picture this. At our first meeting only four people came!” Of the sixteen in attendance, only two were Psychology majors. Other students had majors that ranged from game programming to creative media to business. “For starting off so late in the school year we have gotten a lot of interest and that makes me really happy,” said Cutting. “Mental health is really important, especially during your college years.” 

Over 1,100 college students die from suicide each year. Most mental health issues make an outward appearance between the ages of 18-23. “There may be signs before hand,” said Black, “but this is when they’re most diagnosed. If someone can step in now they can potentially help someone a lot down the line. Maybe this won’t happen to them and maybe if they have the support and resources available to them now—then later in life they won’t feel stigmatized. Maybe they’ll be more comfortable with reaching out.”

Active Minds was initially founded in 2001 at the University of Pennsylvania  by Alison Malmon after her older brother, Brian, committed suicide. Malmon was moved to change the way people thought of mental illness, encouraging students to seek help early on. The first year at Penn State was so successful that the university offered Malmon support to expand to other campuses. In 2003 Active Minds opened their National headquarters in Washington, DC and now has more than 400 campus chapters. 

Currently, Active Minds at Champlain is focusing on raising the money it needs to become official. “So far we’ve raised about 300 out of the 500 we need,” said Cutting, smiling. “We’re selling chocolate covered pretzels with positive messages in the packaging. We want people to feel loved and appreciated.”  

“I realize that 500 pretzels is a little ambitious for a campus of 2000,” said Black, “but it’s important to shoot for the starts. It’s important to get our name out there. We really want to open the door, we want to provide support.” 

“Jordan and I, we really try not to push anyone to share their stories, we don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable,” said Black. “ But it’s sad how when one person shares a story of mental health and tragedy how many people say ‘me too’ or ‘I was scared to speak up.’ In Active Minds, we’re trying to create that community where people aren’t scared or ashamed. Mental Health isn’t something to be scared or ashamed of.”  

Black has her own experience with mental health. At ten, her father left her family. “It was a nasty divorce. He left my mom and four girls with no father figure to support us. My mom really fell head first, it was hard to watch her pull herself together,” said Black whose family has a history of depression. Last year, her family was deeply affected by her uncle’s suicide. “These kinds of things are everywhere,” said Black. “It’s something that people keep hidden. Nobody is going around saying their uncle shot themselves in the head but it isn’t something that we should be ashamed of. He was probably struggling. He probably didn’t have the resources and support that we’re so lucky to have at Champlain. If I can touch just a couple of people and make them see hope, just a brighter side to things, I think that’s really my goal.”

“My favorite positive pretzel message?” asked Cutting. “The tallest tree in the forest was once a little nut that held it’s ground.” 

Active Minds meets every Thursday in Ireland 205 at 8:30PM.