A Simple Tool to Help a Complex Conversation

Nathan Blanken
Nathan Blanken

With the holiday season in full swing, what I am thankful for has been at the forefront of my mind. While I am very grateful of course for my family, friends, and lenient professors amid the pandemic, I’m also more appreciative than ever for the ability to share about my mental health in a community that supports me. That community was strengthened by the programs provided by Active Minds, which have transformed the way that my classmates and I talk about mental health, encouraged us to be open about what we’re going through, and above all, reminded us how important it is to be there for each other.

One of the most beneficial programs that our chapter has been able to share with our campus is V-A-R® or Validate-Appreciate-Refer, Active Minds’ everyday tool for everyday conversations. With over 40,000 students at the University of Maryland, we have been fortunate to reach countless students and share this invaluable resource with them. The V-A-R toolkit is a free resource whose lessons I use on an almost daily basis. There have been times where my friends tell me that they aren’t doing well and before learning V-A-R,  I just didn’t know what to say. V-A-R has taught me that even if I don’t know all the right words, the most important thing I can do is just keep the conversation going and let them know I’m here for them. Active Minds offers so many resources that people can use to start, continue, or just help the conversation about mental health, but I truly think that V-A-R is one of the most influential and beneficial resources I have come across. 

The V-A-R toolkit would not be possible without support from Kendra Scott. Not only did Kendra Scott support the creation of this toolkit, but they have personally supported the University of Maryland chapter in fundraising efforts. Before our spirit week this year, I was able to connect with another student at my school who is the University of Maryland campus representative for Kendra Scott, more commonly called a Kendra Scott Gem. We talked a few times about ways that could benefit both Active Minds and Kendra Scott. Despite not having done many events together yet, our campus representative Gillian was able to get us a pair of earrings that we could use as an incentive to fundraise for Spirit Week. For the campuses that have Kendra Scott Gems and Active Minds chapters, I hope they can connect just like Gillian and I did so that more amazing partnerships can form not just between the organizations but between students as well. 

kendra scott earrings

There’s a lot to be grateful for this holiday season and whether you’re thankful for a friend, a mentor, or an organization like I am, make sure you let them know you’re happy that they’re a part of your life.  Thanks to the hard work that so many people in the Active Minds community have put in, we can have resources like V-A-R and partnerships like the one with Kendra Scott that help to end the stigma around mental health in schools and communities nationwide. I am grateful that I can be a part of Active Minds and appreciative of the support I have from so many people to change the culture around mental health at my university.