Active Minds promotes mental health awareness through events, peer-to-peer interaction on WCTC campus
In recent years, the number of college students nationwide who have experienced mental health problems has spiked. According to the annual Healthy Minds survey that was published in spring 2023, more than 40 percent of students reported symptoms of depression, while 37 percent said they experienced anxiety and 15 percent said they had considered suicide – the highest rate since the survey began in 2007. Additionally, the numbers of college-age students experiencing feelings of loneliness and isolation also continues to rise.
Amy Machgan, director of Mental Health Counseling Services at WCTC, said since Covid-19 – and even prior to the pandemic -- she has seen an uptick in the number of students on campus who are struggling with these issues. And it doesn’t just affect college students. In May, the U.S. Surgeon General released an advisory declaring loneliness and isolation a public health crisis – which can lead to mental and physical health issues.
Increasing Mental Health Awareness
At WCTC, there is a student club that’s hoping to change those statistics for the better. The College’s student chapter of Active Minds, which originally began on campus in 2019, is dedicated to increasing mental health awareness and decreasing stigma, reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation, and promoting social connectedness.
“Our main goal with Active Minds at WCTC is connection,” said WCTC student and Active Minds president Sarina Vongsavath. “We want to create a safe place for students to talk about different issues, have the hard conversations, and know that people are there for each other. We don’t want anybody to feel like they’re alone on campus.”
Nationally, Active Minds was founded in 2003 by Alison Malmon after her older brother, Brian, died by suicide a few years earlier. She recognized that her brother’s story was the story of so many others who suffered in silence and thought they were alone. It was Malmon’s goal to make a difference and shine a light on mental health struggles and suicide; she sought a way for students to become advocates, prioritize their well-being and encourage dialogue between them about mental health concerns. There are more than 600 student chapters within colleges, plus K-12 initiatives and workplace programming. In Wisconsin, just two technical colleges offer Active Minds chapters.
According Vongsavath, the group took a brief hiatus a few years ago, but returned in full force in 2023. During the summer, the club was awarded a grant to travel to Washington D.C. for students to participate in the Active Minds Mental Health Conference to learn more about mental health, build leadership skills and identify opportunities to grow the club and make a difference on the WCTC campus.
Activities Promote Conversation, Connection
This semester, Active Minds has held a variety of activities to encourage connection and dialogue. Events have included Stress Less week, in which students received stress less kits (featuring products donated from Murad), self-care bingo, creativity breaks, game nights, craft sessions, and most recently, an A.S.K. – Acknowledge, Support and Keep-In-Touch – event, in partnership with MTV Entertainment’s Mental Health is Health initiative. A.S.K encourages students to be sure they are validating a friend’s feelings and recognizing the courage it takes for them to share feelings (Acknowledge), showing up and offering to help (Support), and checking in to make sure the friend is okay (Keep-In-Touch). The WCTC A.S.K. event also featured making connection bracelets. Most events also offer food; all offer opportunities for conversation and friendship.
Additionally, faculty have been encouraging students to participate in Active Minds activities, with some bringing entire classes to events, said Vongsavath and Machgan, who serves as the chapter’s advisor.
Machgan said instructors can be among the first to notice if a student is struggling with issues of mental health and loneliness, and their support for Active Minds reinforces the club’s value to students.
“Instructors are key in helping students build community,” Machgan said. “To get students out and connected early on in the semester will lessen their feelings of isolation and improve their sense of belonging.”
To learn more about the Active Minds organization and mission, visit www.activeminds.org.