After our first week of Send Silence Packing displays flew by, it was off to East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania. This is the home of Raquel Sosa, the President of the Active Minds Student Advisory Committee, and her star burned bright on this gorgeous, fall Monday. Raquel was a one-woman wrecking ball, swinging all around campus to stomp out the stigma of mental health. Her ESU chapter was incredibly organized, and beyond eager to share the display with the flocks of students swarming around The Quad. We were so happy to bring this impactful event to Raquel’s campus after the countless hours of time and effort she has given to Active Minds over the years. Feel free to check out her recent blog, “Salud Mental, two words I never knew existed…,” which talks about the challenges of Latinx individuals, and other minority groups, to access proper mental health care due to stigmatized cultural beliefs, and lack of proper representation of minorities in the mental health space.
East Stroudsburg has a diverse, well-rounded campus, which made conversations among students uniquely powerful, with everyone keeping an open mind to the perspectives of others. Unfortunately, there was one moment where this was not the case. A student approached Raquel late in the afternoon, and voiced his thoughts on mental health. His views were aligned with the large population who are still not fully informed about the depths of mental illness, and how it affects those who struggle on a daily basis.
This young man mentioned phrases like, “mind over matter,” and “just find something to live for,” in regards to those struggling with depression. It’s these types of comments that can be extremely damaging to us that deal with mental health issues each and every day. Mental illness does not discriminate, and can impact anyone from the single-parent working two jobs to support his/her kids, to famous celebrities and athletes who seemingly have the entire world at the palm of their hands. You would never ask a quarterback with a broken shoulder to “just throw the football,” as his/her physical pain would be visible. With mental illness, our pain and struggles are often times unseen, which makes it difficult for others to see what’s really going on inside our minds. We would like to ask anyone who isn’t directly affected by mental illness to please keep an open mind, believe our words, validate our feelings, and let us know you’re here for us. All we want is to be seen and heard without judgement. We are always trying our best, and appreciate when you’re by our side. Our all-new V-A-R approach is an everyday guide for everyday struggles, and consists of steps to Validate-Appreciate-Refer during a conversation that could ultimately be life changing for someone in need.
As Thursday rolled around, it was time for Robert Morris University to shine. Located in Moon Township, just outside of Pittsburgh, this peppy campus was ready to rock n’ roll to the tunes of their #hereforyou soundtrack. RMU’s daily Instagram countdown had us ready to take the stage, and we had no problem sitting back listening to their mental health awareness lead singers, Erica and Joey. These two needed no opening act, as their relentless enthusiasm glided around campus like crowd surfers. Therapy dog in training, Violet, also made her illustrious appearance with counseling center leader, Holly, along with outreach specialist, Sam, who oversees RMU’s THRIVE program. The seamless coordination between the Active Minds chapter and counseling center was like music to our ears, as their genuine care for mental health awareness is clearly a passion-filled mission for everyone.
As students roamed around the display, plenty of conversations were being held, but the words that stuck with me the most were from the current President of the Robert Morris chapter, Jenna. Without her knowing, I connected with almost everything she said, as she flowed through conversations like a sail through wind. Shy and introverted in high school, Jenna had a difficult time adjusting to college. She once ran a blog called, Woe’s and Foe’s, which served as a creative outlet to share her journey through mental illness during her transition to Robert Morris University. Joining the RMU Active Minds chapter was a big moment for her, as it finally provided a safe environment to talk about her feelings aloud, and not feel judged. Personally, I saw a lot of my younger self within Jenna, and not just because of the cat socks she was wearing during the event. She’s gentle, caring, and would be willing to drop everything to help someone in need. This world needs more Jenna’s, and people like her give me hope that mental health will one day be destigmatized.
As she oddly carried around a “turned off” microphone through parts of the event, sometimes to lighten the mood with her quick-witted humor, there’s only one thing I wish could have happened on this day. I wish the microphone would have been turned on, as loud as can be, for the whole campus to hear. Her subtle voice, backed with powerful thoughts, needs to be shared with the world. She has a gift of openness, vulnerability, and courageousness to use her past experiences to help guide others through tough times. I would love to see her flip the microphone “on” moving forward, because we would all be lucky to hear about her strength through difficult moments, as her words could serve as lightning bugs of flickering hope in the midst of dark times for others.
If you’re interested in bringing this profoundly impactful display to your campus or community, apply for the spring tour today.