BY DANIEL ENG
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Active Minds is a national organization, with over 400 campus chapters, that is committed to breaking down the stigma associated with mental illness and treatment. At County College of Morris, the first chapter of Active Minds established at a community college in New Jersey is seeking to change the dialogue on mental health.
Ariella Heisler, a counselor at CCM and Active Minds’ adviser on campus, said the club is good for anyone, even those without mental health problems. “Everyone has something going on whether it’s diagnosed or not,” Heisler said. “Everyone gets anxious sometimes, or lonely or sad…because life happens. Life gets in the way of school. School gets in the way of life.”
The CCM chapter is fairly new, and many of Active Minds’ previous student leaders have graduated. Acting president Danuta Choina said she wants to let students know that it’s ok to have these issues and to talk about them. “We are trying to bring awareness about mental illness and how you can stop the symptoms from becoming more severe,” Choina said. “We’re going to give you positive resources to help you work through your stress, so that it doesn’t become potentially problematic.”
Alison Malmon founded Active Minds when she was a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, according to Active Minds’ official website. Her older brother Brian was experiencing depression and psychosis for three years but hid his symptoms. On March 24, 2000, he committed suicide, according to Active Minds’ official website. Alison then created a model for Active Minds called Open Minds. After its first year, it gained enough momentum to expand onto other campuses. By 2003, a national headquarters was established in Washington, D.C. The non-profit organization and its affiliated campus chapters officially became renamed Active Minds Inc., according to Active Minds’ official website.
Members of Active Minds plan on hosting several events on campus in the near future, including a fundraiser to raise money for a guest speaker to come to CCM, according to Choina. Other activities include a “PostSecret” event, in which students would anonymously mail their secrets on the backs of postcards to contribute to the ongoing community art project of the same name (www.postsecret.com).
Another event, “Send Silence Packing,” involves 1100 backpacks with stories on them that are sent to institutions. The backpacks symbolize the 1100 suicides that happen on college campuses every year, according to Active Minds’ official website.
Events such as these help stress the urgency of mental health treatment and advocate awareness, according to Heisler.
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates 22.1 percent of all Americans 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder each year. With one in every four Americans being diagnosed with a mental illness, it is staggering to think how many may suffer in silence.
The office of counseling services on campus can be found on the ground floor of the Student Community Center, room 118. Their phone number is 973-328- 5140. For the suicide prevention lifeline, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).