Self-care has become one of the most talked about topics in the conversation of mental health. It dominates the online discourse, has found niches in countless industries, and has helped remove some of the stigmas around taking care of your well-being, whether it be through therapy, journaling, or even just resting. Self-care is critical to maintaining your mental health — but it’s also true that we can’t go through life alone, keeping our struggles and worries internally. We need to prioritize community care at the same level we do self-care, but that won’t happen until we are all clear on what community care is, why it matters, and how we can practice it in our daily lives.
Here to provide examples of how Gen Z can foster better cultures of care with their friends, at their schools, and in their communities are two of Active Minds’ student leaders, Nathan Blanken from the University of Maryland and Emma Lamoreaux from Temple University:
WHAT IS COMMUNITY CARE?
What does “community care” mean to you?
Emma: It is no secret that sometimes college campuses are the places where one suffers the most loss and goes through the most hardship. I think, with this in mind, community care refers to our duty to care for one another, support our peers, and be connected to our own well-being, as well as others. We all have a role to play in making every environment we come into contact with a caring and loving space in whatever form possible — whether this looks like checking in on each other or advocating for mental health resources on campus.
Nathan: Community care means looking out for the people around you. My community is the University of Maryland, College Park. I care for my community by tabling mental health resources, being there for my friends, and staying positive.
How do you start conversations about mental health on your campus and with your friends?
Emma: As an organization, our Active Minds Chapter is always trying to share upcoming meetings and events for students to attend, in the chance that they need an outing to express their personal concerns. However, it’s important to note that starting conversations about mental health on a college campus can be a very sensitive and difficult topic to approach. We’ve found that in order to start a conversation about mental health, you must start by sharing your own personal experiences and stories. This not only creates a safe and open space for others to contribute but also allows others to see that their struggles may be similar to someone else’s, encouraging them to speak up. Our Chapter finds this method to be quite successful, as it develops trust, a key component in aiding productive conversations.
Nathan: Being that I do so much work with Active Minds, people come to me to talk about their mental health, resources around campus, and my opinion about certain topics pertaining to mental health. I am usually very welcoming to these conversations as I like to help my friends however I can. If someone comes to me about a struggle they are having in their life, I always choose to listen first before I say anything. Listening is huge because it really helps you understand the struggles someone is going through before injecting your opinion.
WHY DOES COMMUNITY CARE MATTER?
- How does your Chapter intentionally work to create a healthy community and/or support each other?
Emma: Our Chapter aims to create a healthy community by promoting a culture of inclusivity and respect. We want all members to feel welcome and supported throughout whatever struggles they may be experiencing. We also strive to be a reliable source on our campus, by holding regular meetings, events, tabling sessions, and working with other reputable organizations on campus.Nathan: We try to create a healthy community and support each other by having open meetings where anyone can come, and we incorporate discussion as much as possible to hear everyone’s opinions. For most students, their classes mostly consist of listening to a professor lecture, and the students don’t talk much. In our meetings, we like to make sure the student’s voice is heard. We also try collaborating with other organizations as much as possible in order to get the word out about Active Minds.
HOW CAN I START PRACTICING COMMUNITY CARE?
What advice do you have for high school and college students who want to invest in supporting their community at school?
Emma: When I first got to college, I felt like I didn’t really have a “home.” If you’re feeling the same way or just want to make a difference, the best thing you can do is seek out and join organizations and causes that align with your values and interests. This provides you with opportunities to gain valuable experience, make impactful changes, and meet like-minded people. Thankfully for me, this is how I found Active Minds! If I hadn’t put myself out there, I would have never realized my true passion and capabilities, nor would I have been able to work with the wonderful people I’ve met along the way.
Nathan: Supporting your community is all about learning what your community needs the most. Issues that you face might not be the same issues that others face, but on the flip side, it’s important to recognize what your strengths are and see how those strengths can most benefit your community. If you love animals, then go help at the humane society. If you have a lot of canned goods that you aren’t going to eat, then donate them to your local food pantry. Find what you’re good at and share that skill with the people around you.
What events has your Chapter hosted with the goal of bringing together your community and offering support? How did they go, and what did your Chapter take away from these events?
Emma: Last spring, our Chapter was looking for ways to impactfully raise awareness about mental health and reduce stigma. When we were contacted with the opportunity to host Abraham Sculley, an Active Minds speaker who shares his personal story of mental health struggles and resilience despite all odds, we immediately knew we couldn’t pass it up. His story is one of hope, reminding us about the importance of speaking up and seeking help when you really need it. One of the best ways you can fight mental health stigma is by talking about it, and his speech allowed us to gain a deeper understanding of what we were working towards and motivated us to continue our advocacy work. Although our speaker event was close to a year ago, our chapter still talks about how empowering Abraham’s story was, helping us to share our own experiences with each other.
Nathan: Our most recent V-A-R®, or Validate-Appreciate-Refer®, event was a simple tabling event in the middle of our campus. I personally use V-A-R® almost every day, and it helps me navigate conversations in ways that I didn’t think about before I knew about V-A-R®. We brought out some small pamphlets, stickers, and pins to give away as people walked by. We also had a big white poster board in the middle of the table that said, “What would you say to someone if you knew they were struggling?” That simple question got so much engagement from students that we filled the entire poster board with responses in just a few hours. The question got people engaged with our table, curious about V-A-R, and interested in joining the chapter. It didn’t require much work to set up, and it was one of our most successful events!
If you would like more about ways to center community care in the spaces you occupy, we encourage you to check out the Active Minds Chapter Network, V-A-R®, and Active Minds Speakers. Through skill-building and starting new conversations about mental health where they didn’t exist before, you are contributing to a more positive mental health environment that everyone will benefit from.