On Friday, November 14, members of Colgate’s Active Minds club, accompanied by Director of the Shaw Wellness Institute Thad Mantaro, attended a three-day national conference in College Park, Maryland. The eleventh annual Active Minds conference brought together over 500 students from more than 100 universities to discuss mental health. Attendees listened to speakers share their own personal stories about mental illness and attended workshops focused on gaining support for the club and breaking down the stigma associated with mental health.
Saturday’s keynote speaker, Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, author of An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, spoke to the connection between her career in psychiatry and her own struggle with manic-depressive illness. Although Jamison spent much of her career hiding her illness from the public eye, she eventually opened up about her illness and left her practice to share her story. However, in response to one student’s question concerning whether or not she should disclose the details of her own mental illness on medical school applications, Jamison responded that the student should not reveal this information until she has become established. Jamison expects that some medical schools will refuse acceptance to students with mental illnesses, and she believes we still live in a society where not even the medical arena can escape the stigma of mental health.
Dave Romano, a 22-year-old pursuing a bachelor’s degree in social work at the College of St. Scholastica, also spoke about his battle with mental illness and its associated stigma. After being diagnosed with depression, Romano described his initial response.
“First, I was embarrassed. The next thing that came to mind was ‘no one can know,’” Romano said.
Romano concluded his speech by addressing the fact that this issue is more widespread than it may seem, raising the importance of breaking down its
“You don’t have to have a mental illness to have mental health problems,” Romano said.
According to the final keynote speaker, Kevin Briggs, societal pressure to keep mental illness a secret has, unfortunately, discouraged many individuals from seeking help. Briggs was a former California Highway Patrol Officer who persuaded hundreds of people considering suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge to climb back over the rail. He spoke about the necessity of promoting mental health awareness and suicide prevention training. His goal is to change modern society to reach the point where anyone feels comfortable raising their hand and saying “I have an issue.”
“Active Minds continues to grow on Colgate’s campus so the best part of going to the conference was seeing what other schools are doing to reduce the stigma and getting more ideas for what we can do here. It was great to be around peers that were passionate about the same things as us, and I think the experience will add a lot to how Active Minds engages the student body here,” junior Lindsay Appleman, who attended the conference, said.
Colgate attendees hope to bring back the knowledge acquired at the conference to gain support for the Active Minds club and to promote mental health awareness on campus.
“It was amazing to see our students engaged in the different workshops and sessions, and to hear how motivated they were to bring new ideas back to Colgate. I’m really proud of the work this group does on
campus,” Mantaro said.