Reflections from an Active Minds Graduate on the Importance of Mental Health in College Culture

Kelsey Pacetti
Kelsey Pacetti

Content Warning: This piece contains mentions of suicide.

As a high schooler, I convinced myself that starting college would be the fresh start I was looking for. I was certainly ready for one. So as I sat on the long drive to Eastern Michigan University (EMU) I looked through lists of student clubs, envisioning what my new life would be like. Active Minds popped up. Mental health was a big part of my life even then, so I dove right into reading and learning more. At the time, I anticipated joining once I was a student, and hopefully making some friends from it, but I didn’t realize just how much joining this organization would impact my life. 

My transition to college, like many others, was difficult. I was navigating moving away from my hometown, meeting new people, finding the motivation to go to class, struggling with finding a therapist due to insurance, and just coping with the everyday. My problems hadn’t all disappeared as I had hoped once I set foot on campus. Instead, the deep depression I had been experiencing was following me through my first semester. The only times I felt like I could escape these feelings were during Active Minds meetings. They were the first place I felt I could safely be vulnerable and truly authentic. It was the one thing I looked forward to each week. But even with this newfound community, I was still struggling, although I don’t think I even realized how much at the time. Each day became harder to manage. Eventually, I attempted to take my own life. Luckily, I survived, but I had to take time away from school and was nervous about what emotions and difficulties would await me upon my return.

When I was able to return to campus, I was immediately grateful to have my Active Minds community. I received a wonderful video of support, flowers, and cards with the main message of “Here For You.” They also weren’t afraid to say the word “suicide,” to confront the difficult parts of mental health. They helped me to feel seen, and my struggles were validated. I was heard. And, because of them and their encouragement, I felt ready to truly address what I needed to do for myself and my wellbeing. I decided to transfer and be back in Wisconsin. The decision was difficult mostly because of the EMU Active Minds chapter, but I knew it was the first step I needed to take in supporting my mental health. It broke my heart to say goodbye but I knew it was the right choice and that they would still be my lifelong friends.

As I picked between schools, a non-negotiable for me was a campus with an Active Minds chapter – that community was the most important thing to me. I transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with high hopes. I was scared to be starting over, but I chose to be as confident as possible as I walked into my first Active Minds meeting. Thankfully, I instantly made friends just as I had with my former chapter. I gave ideas, learned more about what their chapter had done and was planning on campus, and even asked about leadership positions. From then on, I gave Active Minds all of my passion and drive. I knew I had found a home.

I was in my second year as my chapter’s president when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. This was an extremely low time for many, including those in our chapter. I had to adapt to virtual meetings and gatherings which ultimately made planning difficult. It felt never-ending. Again it was easy to lose motivation, but seeing our members smiling faces on a screen gave me hope for better days ahead. We continued on, and had many successful semesters despite the pandemic – our chapter even won the “Chapter of the Year” award at the 2022 Active Minds National Conference. Suddenly my five years in college and three years as chapter president felt fast amidst the pandemic. Through hosting events like Send Silence Packing, Active Minds Speakers, and our weekly meetings and activities, attending the Active Minds National Conference, winning awards, serving on the Student Advisory Committee, and so much more, I found my purpose in life again. 

As I reflect on my college career with my final semester coming to a close, I know that Active Minds is so much more than just a club. Active Minds…

  • Gave me life-long friendships and a chosen family.
  • Taught me leadership and collaboration skills.
  • Presented me with new opportunities in a field I’m passionate about.
  • Helped me find my motivation again and set goals for the future.
  • Set me up with the confidence to choose myself and create a life worth living.

Photo of student holding graduation cap to camera. Cap includes Active Minds logo and text reading "Your Voice is Your Power."

It is not an understatement when I say that Active Minds saved my life. As I graduate I cannot thank my chapter and Active Minds National Staff enough for helping me see my worth and find my place in the world. I don’t know where I would be without all of you. I know that the class of 2022 (even if you were not a part of Active Minds) is going to continue to cultivate hope and advocate; resiliency will follow you within your careers. Take those gifts with you as you leave your school. Never forget your chosen family. Know you’re not alone as you start this next, maybe unknown, journey. You can adapt to this big change. You have a purpose on this planet. Shine bright and remember that your voice is your power.

Photo Credit: Elena Kate Photography