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Active Minds strives to improve mental health

April 4, 2013

Briana Miranda and Jessica Banitt table for Active Minds, a student organization on campus that seeks to improve Mental Health
Briana Miranda and Jessica Banitt table for Active Minds, a student organization on campus that seeks to improve Mental Health. (Sarah Plank/Student Voice)

Over 1,100 college students across the nation will die each year as a result of suicide, according to Active Minds, a national nonprofit organization that raises awareness of mental health issues among college students.

UW-River Falls has not been immune to this number, as at least three students have died from suicide since the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year.

This is in addition to the approximately 130 UWRF students have attempted suicide one or more times during the last 12 months, according to the 2012 American College Health Association National College Health Assessment. In the assessment, it said that approximately 2 percent of UWRF students had attempted suicide one or more times while 42.5 percent, or a little more than 2,700 students felt things were hopeless.

While there is not a single reason why suicides happen, the UWRF Active Minds chapter is seeking to combat the stereotypes surrounding suicide and mental illness through an interactive and national event involving students, staff and faculty during April.

The event, titled UWRF Secrets, asks participants to share their stories of how they have been hurt by a mental illness or by something causing them stress. The group will hand out notecards with a booth in the University Center and all the dorms for people to drop off the notecards.

“The goal would be that if people see what others are going through by sharing their stories that people will then see they are not alone and they can get the help they need,” said David Romano, UWRF’s Active Minds’ president. “We hope this will create a feeling of unity as people see that other people are going through the same thing.”

On the notecards will be stapled ways to get help, such as through UWRF’s counseling services located in Hagestad Hall. A board with these notecards will be shown April 8, 9, 11 and 12 as part of a national event with Active Minds with both a student and faculty side.

Romano was the founder of the UWRF Active Minds chapter that started last spring. Currently, more than 120 people are on the group’s email list. During the meetings the group finds ways to create a positive environment, eliminate stigmas and educate people on mental health.

“We believe that if we put ourselves out there and are willing to talk about it, then we can change the conversation and what people think differently about mental health,” Romano said. “It has been really frequent on our campus, and our chapter has taken the responsibility to change that because that number (of suicides) needs to be zero,” Romano said. “Mental health just as important as physical health.”

The biggest stigma on college campuses, Romano said, is fear of getting help.
“They think it’s a weakness and that they have to be ashamed of it,” Romano said. “But it’s an injury, just like any physical injury.”

The best way to combat these stigmas, Romano said, is to advocate and provide support.

“We can be good role models. I can be an advocate, saying, ‘I can get help when needed,’ and just by starting that conversation we can start to erase that stigma,” Romano said.

One in four adults struggle with a mental health disorder, and the group that struggles with mental health disorders the most is 18-24 year-olds, according to the Active Minds national website.

Alice Reilly-Myklebust, the director of student health services at UWRF said 18-24 year olds are affected more because of the number of transitions being made in their lives.

“It’s an age group that might be going through difficult times such as moving away from families and with academics becoming more rigorous,” Reilly-Myklebust said.

However, more students have been coming to get help from health services, a sign that Myklebust said does not mean more people have mental illnesses, but that it is now easier to treat and diagnose a mental illness so people are coming to get the help they need.

In the aforementioned assessment, 18 percent of UWRF students reported that during the course of their lives they had received psychological or mental health services at UWRF.

“Before, many people used to think it was a sign of weakness. What they need to remember is that this is a medical condition that is very treatable,” Reilly-Myklebust said.

For more information on mental illness, resources   are available at Student Health and Counseling Services located at 211 Hagestad Hall or by calling 715-425-3884.