Five Reasons to Attend the Active Minds Mental Health Conference

Nathan Blanken
Nathan Blanken

For many months I worked with the Active Minds team to prepare for the first in-person Mental Health Conference in almost three and a half years. The months leading up to the Conference felt like an eternity in anticipation, but once it started, the two days at the Conference flew by. Looking back at those 48 hours, there are some major lessons learned, relationships built, and ideas exchanged that I could only partake in by attending Conference, and that can’t be substituted by any other experience. If you missed the Active Minds Conference this year, I hope the highlights I’m sharing here will cement your plan to attend next time around. As a student advocate, the top benefits I felt from attending were meeting and networking with mental health advocates from across the country, learning new advocacy ideas to take back to my university, connecting with the Student Advisory Committee (SAC), being introduced to new national programs, and enjoying unique mental health-related products and experiences. 

One of the best parts of the Conference for me was interacting with chapter leaders, advisors, CEOs, and mental health advocates from all over the country. Being with more than 400 people in one space was a bit overwhelming at first, but I quickly felt at home around so many people united in the name of mental health awareness. Founder and Executive Director Alison Malmon said it best while opening the Conference: “Turn to the person to your left and tell them that ‘You are a change enabler.We are all change enablers, standing with Active Minds in our growing movement to change the culture around mental health.” What Alison said was true for every single person in that room. We were there to have an impact and ultimately make a change. Throughout the day, I met many change enablers and heard their stories about their involvement in the mental health awareness space. One of the people I met was my friend Jaiden. Jaiden is a proud advocate and started the Active Minds Chapter at his high school four and a half years ago. Jaiden and I have talked online a few times, but finally meeting him in person was a completely different experience. We were both able to share our ideas and learn from each other. I met with many other leaders in the space, and chatting with these people was an invaluable experience that I could only have gained by my decision to attend the Active Minds Conference.

Attending multiple informative breakout sessions each day was also an incredible plus to participating in the Conference. During these hour-long, more intimate discussions, I learned about different programs, events, and actions I can take back home to implement and better my Chapter’s activism on campus. Some of those include the “Yellow Tulip Project,” which is where you plant yellow tulips during Suicide Prevention Month in September, “Chalk the Walk,” where chapters write statistics, encouraging messages, and mental health resources on the sidewalk around campus, and “How to Pass the Torch During Leadership Transitions,” which gave helpful information on how to ensure your Chapter remains strong when current leaders graduate. I learned many essential skills for maintaining a healthy Chapter, such as forging a strong relationship with an advisor, reaching out to your school for funding, and creating connections to host more successful events. 

Thanks to the Conference, I also connected with other members of the Active Minds Student Advisory Committee (SAC) in person for the first time. If you are unfamiliar with the SAC, I’d encourage you to learn more about us here. I have been part of the SAC for the past two years, and for the past year, I have been the president. Seeing the connections this incredible group of people has made with students across the country has been incredibly fulfilling. The students in SAC are hardworking, creative, and smart individuals who put in a lot of work to help provide a positive Chapter experience for students in their region. Meeting the SAC in person is an excellent opportunity to learn more about how they can help to support your Chapter and your work as a student advocate. To Jordan, Natasha, Geela, Blake, Doah, Emily, Emma, Gabriela, and Tiara, thank you for the immense effort you all put in this year. The support you have given chapters nationwide, including my Chapter at the University of Maryland, is above and beyond.

Another thing that stood out at the Conference was the variety of programs shown. Of course, the Active Minds’ Send Silence Packing® exhibit was a moving and impactful experience, coupled with the immersive Behind the Backpacks portion of the exhibit. Both installations at the Conference that touches our hearts and reminds us of why our work is so important. I enjoyed learning from the many other organizations promoting their program and the exposure I received to important resources and conversations. I learned about various available scholarships, promotions and discounts specific for Conference attendees, and internships that I simply would not have heard about had I not been in attendance. At the Innovation Expo on the second day of the Conference, more than a dozen organizations and Chapters were tabling, showing off their diverse and engaging programs. While all of these organizations had some kind of connection to mental health, they were working in various industries showing how there was truly something for everybody. 

Finally, as a college student, the amount of complementary mental health-related products, resources, and tools I received from the Conference were a fantastic help. Another exciting aspect of the Conference was a live performance by Em Beihold. As the Conference’s featured keynote, she spoke with the SAC’s own Jordan Kozuki about her mental health story, her experience as an up-and-coming artist, and what the conference theme, “Be the Mental Health Change,” meant to her. After her conversation, she performed two of her popular songs, “Groundhog Day” and “Numb Little Bug,” live on the piano.

The Active Minds Mental Health Conference as a whole was a great experience, and I cannot wait to attend next year’s event. I value the connections I made in my short time in our nation’s capital and will cherish the memories I made. If you want to learn more about this year’s Conference, please contact