Home FeatureClubs and Classroom Spotlights Active Minds and Erasing the Stigma Around Mental Health

Active Minds and Erasing the Stigma Around Mental Health

by Sekhena Sembenu

With the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forcing the world to isolate, the topic of mental health quickly rose to the surface for many individuals.

Active Minds is a national organization for youth, especially college students, that was founded in June 2003 by Alison Malmon. Malmon’s brother, Brian Malmon, suffered from depression and psychosis. He dealt with this silently and eventually succumbed to suicide.

This tragic event made Malmon realize that many people suffered silently and most were reluctant to reveal their inner pain. This prompted her to start what is now Active Minds.

Here at Montclair State University, Active Minds, a class III organization of the Student Government Association, allows for students to advocate and increase awareness surrounding mental health.

Last year, Larry Camarillo, a senior majoring in psychology, was a regular member of the organization and felt compelled to do more, so he joined their e-board.

Camarillo is now president of Active Minds and oversees all the activities, keeps all the paperwork intact and makes sure everything runs smoothly in the club.

“We create a safe space for students and everyone is invited to talk openly about their mental health without the judgment of others,” Camarillo said.

Larry Camarillo giving an overview of Active Minds during an interview. Photo courtesy of Sekhena Sembenu

Larry Camarillo gives an overview of Active Minds during an interview.
Photo courtesy of Sekhena Sembenu

Every meeting surrounds a different aspect of mental health. On some days, their agenda revolves around wellness issues whereas other sessions are about more controversial and serious issues like suicide.

The organization strives to host many educational events to bring awareness to the public.

“We try to make our events as inclusive as possible,” Camarillo said. “If we do lectures, we do open it up for discussion because we want to hear other perspectives and not shut them out.”

Prior to the pandemic, in-person sessions allowed for a better connection because face-to-face communication seemed more effective. Now, sessions are conducted via Zoom. This still allows for a safe environment for people to express and discuss their feelings.

Cristian Morrillo, a junior majoring in psychology, found himself feeling depressed during the pandemic. During COVID-19, many campus organizations had shut down, but when Morillo saw that Active Minds continued to hold meetings he joined immediately.

“My mental health was really declining and I started to become really introverted,” Morillo said.

Since joining the club, Morillo attends every meeting and feels it is a great community where everyone is welcoming and open to new ideas.

“Every single meeting, I always have a pen and paper out writing down notes, because I love finding out new and interesting facts about mental health and psychology,” Morillo said. “It has also provided me with an educational platform.”

Cristian Morillo posing for a portrait. Photo courtesy of Cristian Morillo

Cristian Morillo attends every Active Minds meeting and feels it is a great community.
Photo courtesy of Cristian Morillo.

Jasmine Rae Williams, a senior majoring in family science and human development and minoring in psychology, discovered Active Minds a few years ago but only pursued her membership last semester.

“Joining this club has heightened my interest in the realm of psychology,” Williams said. “Having such a positive, high-energy group has helped me explore a variety of topics and theories — as well as make more connections regarding my own experiences and health.”

For Williams, COVID-19 has not been easy to deal with, but being involved in this organization always pushed her to keep going.

On April 14, Active Minds held a meeting to discuss the mental health benefits of having pets. Participants were allowed to introduce their pets and describe their symbiotic relationship.

During Mental Health Awareness Month in May, Active Minds held a Denim Day event centered around sexual assault and its consequent effects on an individual’s mental health.

They are also planning other future events like setting up a charity walk fundraiser with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. They hope all their efforts will make the topic of mental health more present and relatable, staying in line with their mission.

Mental health, especially now during the pandemic, is an important issue. Active Minds is a great outlet for people to tap into and share their experiences and receive help.

Group meetings are held every Wednesday from 3-4 p.m.. For more information, Active Minds can be found on the Montclair State Engage page or on Instagram @activemindsmsu.

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