Active Minds starts dialogue on mental health

By Katie Havranek

On Saturday, One of Macalester’s newest organizations Active Minds, will be facilitating a discussion on the subject of mental health over pizza and pasta.

Six of the 13 members of Active Minds will help lead the discussion. “We have people to gently guide people away from unhealthy modes of discussion-things that are insensitive or more triggering than they need to be,” said Russ Schneider ’10, a founding member of the Active Minds chapter at Macalester.
“We recognize that it is a hard line to distinguish so we want people who have been at the meetings all semester to encourage people that it is ok to talk about mental health,” Schneider continued.

Schneider and Zo‰ Christianson ’11 became concerned with what they feel is the ignorance of the Macalester student body about and lack of discussion surrounding mental health last year. The two hoped to do something to challenge the climate that was the cause of “hurtful behavior” on campus.
After Schneider’s extensive research last summer, he came across the national organization Active Minds. “I realized that they are basically what I was hoping to do,” Schneider explained. “Their goal is to change the conversation about mental health. To make what are frequently called mental illnesses a normalized thing so that we can talk about it in the context of day to day life instead of a stigmatized thing that no one can talk about.”

After gauging a large interest from their friend base, Schneider and Christianson worked to start up the chapter this year and were officially recognized in October with Ted Rueff, the associate director of the Health and Wellness, serving as their advisor. The group meets about every other week and experiments ways to talk about mental health.

“Ultimately we are trying to take what we have figured out and take it to the community,” Schneider said.
This Saturday will mark the beginning of the discussion of mental health advocated by Active Minds. The group hopes to attract about 25 non-members for an informal lunch discussion. Schneider hopes that this will be the first of many discussions that will grow to include more members of the Macalester community.

Though the club has been slow getting going, Schneider launched “an aggressive ad campaign” on Wednesday that he hopes will generate more interest.

In order to attend the event, students must RSVP to learn the address.
“We recognize that it is unorthodox,” Schneider conceded, “but don’t want people showing up that aren’t willing to show enough interest. This tends to be sensitive material that directly affects the people that are participating in the discussion.”

Active Minds hopes to avoid turning the issue of mental health into a purely medical one as it tends to remove mental health from the conversation.
Though they do not advocate talking about mental health if the subject makes students uncomfortable, they hope to create a safe space to discuss a relevant issue and challenging the term “mental health,” which they have found to be hurtful to some. “We like psychiatry, we just think it could stand a bit more openness to other possibilities,” Schneider explained.