Reflections on #ActiveMindsCon20

Guthrie Edson
Guthrie Edson

Another successful Active Minds National Conference is in the books! This year’s theme was Bridging Gaps: Changing the Culture in the Everyday, and over the two days more than 600 students, chapter advisors, professionals, and advocates came together to learn how to do just that. This being my first conference, I was excited to spend two days with so many people from across the country who share my passion for mental health advocacy. I knew it would be an exciting time, but I came out of it with way more knowledge and insight than I could have ever imagined.

Frank Warren, founder of Post Secret, delivered the opening keynote with PostSecret Live! Hearing him talk about how and why he started the project was very moving, as was hearing from several students who went up to the mic and shared their secrets in front of the audience. Frank shared his vision of secrets as a way to break down the proverbial walls that we tend to put up, saying that “If we can find ways to free our secrets, we can realize that they were never walls in the first place; they were really bridges,” a message which fit perfectly with the theme of the conference.

The rest of Friday was primarily devoted to the breakout sessions, where attendees had the chance to learn from experts about a wide range of topics related to mental health. Sticking with the theme of storytelling, four Active Minds speakers, Greg Vogt, Lisa Hamp, Pablo Campos, and Kai Roberts, shared tips from their respective speaking journeys in a two-part session. Another session that had high turnout was the screening of Project Wake Up, a documentary about suicide and steps being taken to end the stigma surrounding it and expand access to preventative care. These were just two of the many outstanding sessions over the two days, and a big shout-out goes to all of the presenters and panelists!

Also on Friday, the 2020 Healthy Campus Award winners were recognized. The University of Richmond, Santa Monica College, Denison University, Skidmore College, and the University of Arizona were honored for their efforts to create supportive and healthy environments on their campuses. Representatives from those campuses shared their strategies at the final breakout session of the day and left those in attendance with a lot of great ideas to make their schools a better place.

Saturday got off to a relaxing and rejuvenating start with a special Daybreaker Yoga session, complete with live harp music to get attendees in a relaxed state of mind before the main events of the day. Following another informative and lively morning of breakout sessions, we were treated to a performance by Kai Roberts, who intertwined his own mental health story with two of his powerful songs, “Celebrate” and “Believe.” His words and his music got the crowd rocking and left everyone with a great sense of energy going into the homestretch.

Throughout the day, Send Silence Packing® was on display, giving people who had never experienced it in person the opportunity to do so. I had the chance to spend a few minutes in the display during the day, and it was surreal to see it in person for the first time. Attendees also had the opportunity to explore the Creative Programming Expo, where chapters showcased the best activities they’ve held this year. From arts and crafts to health and wellness to self-care events, it was awesome to see the creative ways that Active Minds chapters are bridging the gaps within their communities around mental health.

The conference ended with the much-anticipated keynote from Zac Levi, who was open, honest, and vulnerable in sharing his story. So much of what he said about mental health resonated with me, and it clearly did with much of the audience as well. “I love you, Zac!” could be heard on several occasions, as well as applause. Many students went up to the mic and shared both their stories and their appreciation for Zac using his platform in Hollywood to promote mental health advocacy. The line to take photos with him after his speech spanned all the way to the opposite end of the room! It was the perfect way to close out a conference full of memorable moments.

In her closing remarks Alison Malmon, founder and executive director of Active Minds, challenged everyone to do one thing throughout the week to keep the conversation going from the weekend to ensure that this is just the beginning of change, rather than the end. After a weekend full of knowledge-sharing, vulnerability, and connection-building, there is no shortage of places to start! We can’t wait to see everyone back in DC for next year’s conference!


Save the Date! Conference 2021 will be held February 19-20, 2021 in Washington, DC!

PS: Check out photos from #ActiveMindsCon20!