Last semester, Patrick Winter was interviewed on his involvement in Active Minds. Read the Q & A to find out more about his work with Active Minds and his thoughts on the important topic of mental health.
Q: What is the mission of the Active Minds club?
A: To increase awareness and decrease stigma surrounding mental health issues on campus, as well as to create a safe space for students to talk about their stories of mental health battles.
Q: Why did you choose to be involved in Active Minds?
A: I became extremely passionate about mental health advocacy after learning that my brother had developed a suicide plan. He was going through the most difficult year of his life as a junior/rising senior in high school and I was one of the first people he told. I still remember where I was the day he told me. It was devastating because I consider him to be one of my best friends. It had an extreme impact on my family. Fortunately, with the right combination of support and follow up, he was able to overcome the darkest time in his life. Though difficult, it made me want to do more for others who are struggling, and Active Minds at St. Thomas gave me a way to do just that.
Q: What are your most valuable experiences being in the club?
A: It brings me a lot of happiness and comfort knowing that all of our executive board members and our club members are like-minded in the sense that they too, are committed to strengthening the conversation surrounding mental health. We have members constantly approaching us about ideas for programs. I’ve been encouraged by the stories that both members and presenters have shared.
Q: What do you hope to achieve by your involvement in Active Minds?
A: I really want to help people understand the best ways to help a friend, family member, roommate, etc. who is struggling. I often hear people saying “I don’t know what to say or do.” I created an informal research project on this issue and have presented it to club members, RAs on campus, and USG Executive Board. For me, however, it’s not about accomplishment and achievement. I’m more motivated and focused on opening up the conversation, because I have less than a year left as a student at St. Thomas. If I can reach just a few people, then I feel confident that mental health advocacy will move forward in good hands (and minds).
Q: Tell us about your CA conference experience:
A: It was amazing!! I learned a lot about mental health on college campuses and it was really inspiring to hear people’s stories about mental health battles. It was great to be around so many like-minded people. I also was given the opportunity to present my informal research project and PowerPoint at the conference at the Creative Programming Expo. It seemed to really captivate everyone that came to me. I really wanted to share PowerPoint/research with as many people as I could, and over 35 Active Minds chapters from across the country signed up to receive the PowerPoint! It was a humbling experience.
Q: What have you learned in being involved in Active Minds?
A: People want to as much as they can. Mental illness is an issue that has reached nearly everyone’s lives, whether it’s a personal struggle or someone they know and love have struggled. I’ve also realized how vulnerable and brave people have to be to share a story, and to me it shows extreme courage and strength. The best way to get a conversation going is by sharing a story.
Q: What frustrates you the most about mental illness stigma?
A: A huge misconception that people have is that mental illness can be healed quickly. For example, it’s not uncommon that someone who is clinically depressed to be told “Just be happy” or “You’ll get over it.” In another example, those who suffer from eating disorders or eating disorder-like symptoms are often told “Why can’t you just eat?” or “You’ll feel better once you eat something.” It’s also disheartening to hear that people are hesitant to seek counseling because it’s “for crazy people.” Two things that bother me about this: “crazy” is the most overused stigmatized word, and counseling is for anyone.
Q: How do you see your involvement in this club now impacting your future?
A: It has directed me to consider graduate school in Counseling Psychology, School Guidance Counseling, and other related programs. It also makes me a better community advocate for others. I feel like I’m in a better place to have conversations about mental health.
Q: How is Active Mind’s mission relevant in the culture of today?
A: I think it’s bringing the mental health conversation back to college campuses. Its mission statement is simply to raise awareness and decrease stigma around mental health. Most people are aware about mental health stigma—that’s where they start.
Q: What is advice you would give students struggling with the mental illness stigma, whether themselves or with someone close to them?
A: You’re not alone. There so many people around you that are going through difficult times as well. People are willing to help you as well! Whether it’s a professional counselor, your family members, friends, or roommates, people care. Find healthy coping skills that work for you. Music, art, exercise, talking to people, etc. are some of the most helpful ways to cope. In terms of stigma, educate people about this exact problem. Let them know that healing is a long and difficult process.
If you’re wanting to help someone, always remember that you are their source of hope and strength, but not their counselor or therapist. Don’t try to fix their problem or give a diagnosis. If you are trying to see how they’re doing, ask. If you suspect something is wrong, ask about behaviors you’ve noticed “I’ve noticed lately you___. How is everything going?” “Is there anything I can do to help you?” And always be consistent with following up and checking in.
Q: Anything else you think we should know?
A: Do your part in combating mental illness—bring it up in conversation, fight the stigma, and look out for each other. It can take just one person to make all the difference. If anyone is going through a difficult time and needs a friend to help, I would be more than happy to talk! My email is email@example.com and my phone number is 563.379.8775.