We began week six of Send Silence Packing by sledding a bit south to visit the enriched culture of Virginia Tech. This frigid, icy Monday morning was quickly melted by the orange and maroon warmth of chapter leaders Emily and Maggie, as their goal of defrosting mental health stigma sent flurries of Hokies to the Drillfield backpack display. With Taylan handing flyers out like candy canes, and Likhitha snapping breathtaking photos, the entire Virginia Tech chapter made it crystal clear there would be No Hokie Left Behind on this day.
We were also happy to be joined by volunteers from the pre-vet club, as they recently partnered with the Active Minds chapter to unleash a phenomenal fundraiser called Puppy Palooza. A donation of two dollars gave students full access to a dog lover’s dream afternoon, while also fetching money to gnaw away mental health stigma. Campus loved therapy dog, Moose, also took time to stray from his busy schedule to hound students with snuggles and retrieve donations, as he constantly adopts the university motto during each new day he embarks upon in the Cook Counseling Center.
As our day began to slowly wind down, I was lucky enough to chat with a great volunteer named Jessie. While her packed schedule has not allowed her to attend any recent Active Minds chapter meetings, she graciously took the day off work, and had this event circled on her calendar for weeks. As a recent transfer student, Jessie was a bit overwhelmed with her move from a small-town school, to the highly populated Virginia Tech. We briefly talked about our personal connection to social anxiety, and she was brave enough to share her dealings with autism spectrum disorder. According to the DSM-5, her disorder would be considered on the milder end of the spectrum with a “high functioning”, level one diagnosis. She spoke about it with a forward, charming tone, which clearly showed strength by not letting the disorder define her. Finding the power to speak up about the issues you deal with can often be the first step in lifting up the curtain for others. Never be afraid to spread your voice, and remember to always be the friend you never had to those around you. It can truly save a life.
Our second stop of the week came at High Point University in North Carolina. While being known as the home furnishing capital of the world, there was absolutely no vanity among the High Point Counseling staff, led by Tiffany and Frank. This particular display proved to be extraordinary, as our backpacks glowed brighter than a chandelier throughout the entire Cottrell Amphitheater. This stunning, outdoor visual provided even greater depth towards never forgetting the mission behind Send Silence Packing, as we remember all of the young, vibrant college students we wish were still here, while providing current students with every resource possible to know that suicide is preventable.
Currently, High Point University does not have an Active Minds chapter on their campus, but one student may be changing that very soon. A volunteer named Tobi had no idea she could bring Active Minds to her campus, and was beyond excited to reach out to our mega-star chapter manger, Robyn, of the Active Minds staff. If your school is not listed on the Active Minds chapter network, you can join Tobi and learn much more about what creating an Active Minds chapter entails. From organizing campus fundraising events, to advocating for changes in campus mental health policies, you would be able to explore the endless possibilities of changing the conversation at your college or university.
Another great way to dip your toes into the Active Minds water would be attending our recently announced national conference in our home base of Washington, DC! The Active Minds National Conference is the nation’s premier conference focused on students and mental health, and how we can all work together towards “Building a Mental Health Culture.” This is a great opportunity to meet campus professionals, government representatives, and student leaders from other Active Minds chapters from around the country. If you have ever wanted to network your way to the top of the mental health mountain, Washington, DC is the place to be on March 22-23, 2019. Registration is now open for this event, and we look forward to seeing the faces of all our amazing mental health stigma fighters!
Our final stop of the Send Silence Packing tour was at Ithaca College in New York, and it was co-sponsored by local non-profit, The Sophie Fund. The Ithaca chapter is led by former Active Minds summer intern, Zoe, and her passion behind erasing stigma on her campus trickles down throughout her entire group. After hosting this all-day event, their chapter also organized a panel full of professionals to further promote the importance of mental health to students. Listening to stories, and learning about new resources never gets old, and this panel reminded us to continue seeking new ways to further engage those around us in these crucial topics.
We were able to meet a gracious gentleman during our display who showed an interest in following Zoe’s footsteps to become an Active Minds intern. Seeing men wanting to get involved in the mental health space is super encouraging, as showing any signs of emotion can often times be perceived as being weak. The current November campaign, #MenForMentalHealth, shows us that it’s okay for men to be vulnerable about their struggles, and reach out for help. Talking about our deepest feelings can be difficult for anyone, and this campaign opens the door for men to feel no shame in discussing their mental health.
As our Send Silence Packing journey ends, we would like to thank each school for allowing us to bring this powerful display to their campus, with endless hugs and high-fives to every single student who helped volunteer along the entire seven weeks. This traveling display would not be possible without you, and your involvement in wanting to change the conversation about mental health brings constant smiles to our faces. Seeing our 450+ chapters wanting to make a difference at their school continues to provide us with purpose and clarity knowing that stigma around mental health is starting to fade away. Lastly, I would like to give a personal thank you to everyone who helped water my inner chrysanthemum with joy, as I’m reminded in my own life that, “Not all who wander are looking for the exit.”