College students around the country suffer from five common mental illnesses: depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse and suicide or suicidal ideation. For some, those terms might be frightening, but others might live with them every day. In any case, it’s never easy to talk about these issues.
One organization, Active Minds, is trying to change that, with an event called “The Big 5,” happening this coming Wednesday, April 13.
Active Minds is a nonprofit, national organization dedicated to breaking the stigma associated with mental illness on college campuses. According to their website, Active Minds is “the leading nonprofit organization that empowers students to speak openly about mental health in order to educate others and encourage help-seeking.”
Local chapters of Active Minds serve as a student-run advocacy group, connecting students with the mental health community through educational outreach. The University of Maine’s chapter is no different.
UMaine Active Minds started in 2012, and now has about 20 members who are committed to helping others by encouraging the flow of conversation surrounding mental illness.
“I think people think that they know about all kinds of different disorders, and like [sic] so much that we think we know is wrong,” Justine Bouthot, a third-year psychology and sociology student, and co-president of the club, said.
In March 2015, UMaine Active Minds helped organize “Send Silence Packing” in the Memorial Union. “Send Silence Packing” is a national traveling exhibit of 1,100 backpacks that educates the public and community about the number of college students that die by suicide every year.
Each backpack represented one of those college students.
“The Big 5” will mirror the way “Send Silence Packing” brought a physical count to statistics. To illustrate the five most common mental health issues that college students suffer from, UMaine Active Minds will be on the University Mall with more than 500 balloons. The balloons will reflect the percentages of each mental health disorder affecting college students.
“Forty percent of college students suffer from depression at some point throughout their college career. So, out of 500 balloons, 40 percent of those will be blue for depression,” Bouthot explained. “We want to show people that these are common, that this is happening way more than people think it is.”
Members of UMaine Active Minds will be at “The Big 5” to pass out informative pamphlets and discuss the visual with passersby.
“What I’m really hoping for is … people who are walking by and see that [“The Big 5”] realize that if they’re struggling with their own mental health, that they’re not alone in their fight … and to bring unity to the whole campus,” Bouthot said. “To realize this is how many people that could be struggling, and we need to be prepared to support them.”
According to Bouthot, this will be the first solo large-scale event which UMaine Active Minds will produce.
Members of the organization also walked in the annual suicide awareness and prevention walk that occurs on campus, called “Out of the Darkness.” Last year, they participated in the “Watch Your Mouth” Campaign, which encourages students to examine the stigmas they promote with their day-to-day vocabulary.
“Saying things like, ‘Oh, she was happy today, and she was sad the day before, she’s so bipolar,’ as an off-the-cuff adjective totally demeans anyone that actually suffers from that disorder. We wanted people to just be aware of what they’re saying,” Bouthot said.
UMaine Active Minds also tables in the Memorial Union at least once a week, highlighting and promoting education regarding different mental health issues each time.
“The conversation about mental health on campus is such an uphill battle, and without organizations like Active Minds there really would be no one that would bring that conversation to light,” Bouthot said. “For all the people that are struggling with their mental health, to have no one there to advocate for them just makes them feel even more alone … so if Active Minds at the University of Maine can help one person, then we’re making more of a difference.”
For more information on “The Big 5” and UMaine Active Minds, like their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/UmaineActiveMinds, follow them on Instagram @UMaineActiveMinds or follow them on Twitter @UMOActiveMinds. If you would like to join UMaine Active Minds, you may email Justine Bouthot on FirstClass.
If you or someone you know is experiencing or has experienced a mental health issue, the Counseling Center may be contacted at (207) 581-1392 during business hours, or by calling (207) 581-4040 and asking for the counselor on call 24 hours a day.