Students fight political correctness of "mental illness

By April DeJarlais

The supposedly politically correct term “mental illness” is widely used without much thought. Macalester’s newly chartered organization Active Minds, a chapter of a national organization, is attempting to erase any political correctness about the term. Active Minds president Russell Schneider ’10 and vice-president Zoe Christianson ’11 stress that the group is not about therapy or solving the “problem” of a mental condition, but rather embracing it as part of the personality and spreading understanding about people with such personality traits.

Working through emotional problems or situations can make it difficult to relate to others, Christianson said. Since others may see the person with the mental condition as difficult to relate to, they become uncomfortable around them. Take social drinking-the concept might not seem like a big deal to people without depression, but people with depression don’t get the buzzed effect.

It can be hard for people with different mental conditions to communicate their feelings to people in a new community. Active Mind is aimed at teaching people with mental conditions how to communicate better. It will also teach people without mental conditions simply what to say if they want to show that they care, but don’t want to look ridiculous or clueless.

The organization is trying to show that a person with a mental condition should be “treated as a person, not a disease,” said Christianson.

Advocates for the understanding and social promotion of people with mental health conditions are taking a leaf out of Gay Pride events, and holding “Mad Pride” parades and events to show that people with mental conditions don’t need to be confined and isolated because their personalities function differently.

Active Minds is kicking off their start at Macalester by holding events during the college’s Mental Health Awareness Week. The group will combine with the Allies Project on Oct. 28 for a mental health discussion panel of students and alumni. An e-mail to head of the Allies project Alina Wong is needed for access to this discussion. There will also be a showing of the film, “Lars and the Real Girl,” at 8:00 p.m. in the John B. Davis Lecture Hall.

Oct. 29 will feature an educational service trip to two organizations who focus on mental health concerns in the Twin Cities. Active Minds will hold their own mini organization fair on Oct. 30, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the multipurpose room of the Cultural House, with free food and lots of information.

Since the organization is freshly chartered, there currently is no confirmed meeting place or time. Once they do start meetings, they will be mostly discussion-based, Schneider said, and will aid students with conditions in shaping their identities while embracing their unique personality traits. The meetings will help those without particular mental conditions with understanding and communication.