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UMass Active Minds supports people with mental disorders

  • Josh Relin, a psychologist on the Umass Campus writes on a sheet of paper as part of a  project put on by a group called Active Minds to reduce the stigma around mental illness.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Josh Relin, a psychologist on the Umass Campus writes on a sheet of paper as part of a project put on by a group called Active Minds to reduce the stigma around mental illness.

    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Josh Relin, a psychologist on the Umass Campus writes on a sheet of paper as part of a  project put on by a group called Active Minds to reduce the stigma around mental illness.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Josh Relin, a psychologist on the Umass Campus writes on a sheet of paper as part of a project put on by a group called Active Minds to reduce the stigma around mental illness.

    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • left Elizabeth McKibben, Amanda Rodriguez adn Drew Morrison all members of A project put on by a group called Active Minds to reduce the stigma around mental illness.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    left Elizabeth McKibben, Amanda Rodriguez adn Drew Morrison all members of A project put on by a group called Active Minds to reduce the stigma around mental illness.

    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Notes on a tree as part of a  project put on by a group called Active Minds to reduce the stigma around mental illness.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Notes on a tree as part of a project put on by a group called Active Minds to reduce the stigma around mental illness.

    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Notes on a tree as part of a  project put on by a group called Active Minds to reduce the stigma around mental illness.<br/><br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Notes on a tree as part of a project put on by a group called Active Minds to reduce the stigma around mental illness.


    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Notes on a tree as part of a  project put on by a group called Active Minds to reduce the stigma around mental illness.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Notes on a tree as part of a project put on by a group called Active Minds to reduce the stigma around mental illness.

    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Notes on a tree as part of a  project put on by a group called Active Minds to reduce the stigma around mental illness.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Notes on a tree as part of a project put on by a group called Active Minds to reduce the stigma around mental illness.

    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Josh Relin, a psychologist on the Umass campus puts a notes on a tree as part of a  project put on by a group called Active Minds to reduce the stigma around mental illness.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Josh Relin, a psychologist on the Umass campus puts a notes on a tree as part of a project put on by a group called Active Minds to reduce the stigma around mental illness.

    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Purchase photo reprints »

  • Josh Relin, a psychologist on the Umass Campus writes on a sheet of paper as part of a  project put on by a group called Active Minds to reduce the stigma around mental illness.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Josh Relin, a psychologist on the Umass Campus writes on a sheet of paper as part of a  project put on by a group called Active Minds to reduce the stigma around mental illness.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • left Elizabeth McKibben, Amanda Rodriguez adn Drew Morrison all members of A project put on by a group called Active Minds to reduce the stigma around mental illness.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Notes on a tree as part of a  project put on by a group called Active Minds to reduce the stigma around mental illness.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Notes on a tree as part of a  project put on by a group called Active Minds to reduce the stigma around mental illness.<br/><br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Notes on a tree as part of a  project put on by a group called Active Minds to reduce the stigma around mental illness.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Notes on a tree as part of a  project put on by a group called Active Minds to reduce the stigma around mental illness.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Josh Relin, a psychologist on the Umass campus puts a notes on a tree as part of a  project put on by a group called Active Minds to reduce the stigma around mental illness.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

Pedestrians passing by a large tree in front of the Goodell building at the University of Massachusetts last week may have noticed a different kind of leaf blowing in the chill of a cool autumn day.

Mixed in among green leaves slowly changing color were slips of white paper tied with ribbon from branches of the tree. On each piece was written a brief comment about a personal struggle shared by a passerby.

One read, “The shrink did not help. I am the reason my best friend is still alive.” Another said, “I am scared of the future.” Yet another: “I struggled with anorexia as an early undergrad.”

The revelations were part of a demonstration by the campus chapter of Active Minds, a national student organization that works to reduce shame and discrimination around mental health disorders by creating communities of understanding, support and help-seeking. The event was part of the National Day Without Stigma, sponsored by Active Minds chapters on 150 campuses around the country.

Local leaders in the UMass chapter invited students, faculty members, staffers and others on the UMass campus to stop by the tree and write down an issue that they dealt with, in relation to mental health. The hope was that passersby also would stop and read the comments, leading to a greater understanding that all people struggle with personal problems at points in their lives and there is no shame in that, organizers said.

The group also set up an informational table in the campus center.

“Everyone has mental health, just not everyone struggles with it,” said Amanda Rodriguez, 21, a senior at UMass studying hospitality/management, who helped start the Active Minds chapter at UMass a year ago.

Group reaches out

Rodriguez said Active Minds is a registered student organization whose aim is to organize events to educate people about mental health problems and what can be done to address them. It offers students tips on reducing stress in their lives, free yoga classes, movie nights and other activities to decrease isolation among students who have faced mental health problems and provide resources for help.

Rodriguez said she had some problems with self-image and depression in high school and also has a close friend with an eating disorder, so she decided to become involved in establishing a local Active Minds chapter. Rodriguez said for many students, leaving high school and going off to college, particularly a large university, can be daunting. Students are far away from their families, childhood friends, and familiar surroundings and people, often for the first time in their lives.

“When you move from your home and suddenly find yourself in a completely different environment, you can get really sad,” she said. “Sometimes it’s important to just make it known that this is something nearly everyone struggles with. It’s easy to become even more isolated.”

Students lend support

Jon Rosenblatt, 19, a sophomore studying psychology, suffered from depression in high school and became a leader in the UMass Active Minds chapter to help other students with similar problems.

“It can be hard to connect with people on a campus of 25,000 people,” he said. “I struggled in high school and throughout the years, off and on, afterwards, and I beat it. I wanted to pass it on.”

Rosenblatt volunteered on a suicide hotline and then got involved with Active Minds at UMass. The organization does not provide mental health counseling to students, but works closely with the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health at University Health Services. The center provides psychiatric services to students with mental health problems, as well as counseling, therapy, support groups, crisis intervention, and more.

“Really, this is just a day to get a conversation started and raise awareness that mental health issues are nothing to be scared of,” Rosenblatt said. “This tree is a way of showing people that they are not alone and they are not the only going through these problems.”

Drew Morrison, 22, an environmental science major, said she joined the group last semester because of long-time struggles with an eating disorder.

“I think it’s important to let people know it’s OK to speak up about these issues,” she said. “Stigma creates silence and silence is what gets people in trouble. You don’t have to wait until it gets out of hand. You can get help, right here on campus, before that happens.”

Rodriguez said college students can feel particular shame about being depressed, anxious, or having other problems because some may think they don’t have a right to.

She said sometimes people perceive college students to be young, free of the struggles of the “real world,” and with their whole lives ahead of them. But the reality is, college is very much a part of the “real world,” with its own set of challenges and problems, she said.

Elizabeth McKibben, 19, a psychology and Chinese major, said it’s also important to let students with mental health problems know that they are much more than a person who has suffered from depression, anxiety or another condition.

“I got involved because of personal experiences I had in high school,” she said. “It’s been more about embracing a different aspect of my identity. Yes, I have suffered from mental illness, but I am not a social pariah. I am an active, intelligent, engaged person who is connected to things and not just in my own little group. It’s been great to help other people find the space to share or not to share. We create a sense of community for people, without them needing to be explicitly open about their own experience.”

McKibben, who also is a yoga teacher, led a meditation walk for students outdoors last year, during which she discussed mental health issues. She also ran a Zumba-thon session to help people get exercise and reduce stress.

“We give people tips on how to prevent stress and strategies for coping with different situations,” she said. “If someone comes in and tells us they are suicidal, we can’t give them counseling, but we can point them in the right direction.”

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