Student groups create community as a resource for mental heath support, advocacy

Samantha Ye

Alongside the plethora professional mental health resources available to them, Colorado State University students formed several student-led organizations to support the mental well-being of their peers.

Two student groups, Active Minds and Ram Recovery, focus on giving students a community to connect with and an advocacy platform for their voices, if they so choose.

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Active Minds

After a fall semester of community building within the club, the CSU chapter of Active Minds is getting back on campus to advocate for mental health awareness, suicide prevention and destigmatizing mental struggles for the campus community.

With recent recent bias-motivated incidents and the protests surrounding the Smashing Socialism lecture, Active Minds president Ellie Ewer said the changing campus environment is a detriment to mental health.

Thus, Ewer’s goal for Active Minds now is to connect the community and support students across all boundaries. They meet every other Tuesday in room 3013 of the Health Center at 5:30 p.m.

One of their largest events so far was Send Silence Packing, an exhibit which showed visually annual college suicide rates. This semester, they are cosponsoring Rams Fail Forward and planning a Day of Play before finals to encourage students to engage in active stress management.

As a resident assistant in Parmalee Hall, Ewer said she sees many students overwhelmed adjusting to university and schoolwork.

“It’s really just a Jenga pile. You keep adding blocks of different responsibilities in your life and I think students sometimes forget to come back to their self-care,” Ewer said. “Eventually you’re going to take out that Jenga piece and everything’s going to fall over.”

Janelle Patrias, advisor for Active Minds, said the campus really embraced help-seeking attitudes, so students are more likely to get the help they need. That may not be the case for all populations though, Patrias said.

While most students would never judge their friends for seeking help, some are reluctant to get help for themselves, according to Patrias.

Ewer said although the University offers a number of good resources, students do not take advantage of them as much as they could due to stigma. She said Active Minds is here to tell students “it’s OK to not be OK,” and to direct people to the resources they need.

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The organization started as the Conscious Student Alliance and became officially recognized as an Active Minds chapter in spring of 2016.

I think it’s one thing to want to share the message about mental illness on campus but it’s another thing to share that with each other.” – Ellie Ewer, Active Minds President

Members table on the Plaza and at various events and they create sticky note murals, but most significantly, they connect with each other’s shared goal and interests.

Active Minds focused largely on building community among members last semester through potlucks, coffee nights storytime, where members go around and share their backgrounds with mental illness with each other.

“It’s a way for members to really kind of dig in and realize the similarities we all have with our stories,” Ewer said. “I think it’s one thing to want to share the message about mental illness on campus but it’s another thing to share that with each other.”

According to Ewer, many students join Active Minds either because they identify with having mental health conditions, know someone who does, or they want to enter a career path relevant to mental health. No matter their reasons for joining, all are welcome.

Those who want to join Active Minds can use the email found on their Facebook page or via RamLink.

Ram Recovery

Whether a student is recovering from substance abuse disorders, eating disorders, behavioral addictions, or co-occurring mental health disorders, Ram Recovery strives to help all students in their path to recovery.

In the “alcohol-and-drug-saturated environment” that is college life, cofounder Ashley Wheeler said the student-led support group promotes a substance-free lifestyle for its members through weekly meetings and by providing fun, substance-free events like group dinners. Most importantly, it offers an essential peer community through which students can meet and connect with those with similar experiences.

By promoting recovery you’re promoting mental health. And, by promoting mental health, you’re helping recovery.” -Ashley Wheeler, Ram Recovery cofounder

Ram Recovery currently has three meetings per week. Students at all stages of recovery are welcome but they must be sober to attend meetings and events.

General Recovery Monday nights, 5:30-6:30 is in room 3013 in the CSU Health Network and is open to anyone who identifies in being in the process of recovery.

The Breakfast Club is similar except held in the Bistro on the 3rd Floor of the Health Network at 10 a.m. Thursdays.

The Eating Disorder Recovery meeting is geared toward those recovering from eating disorders, and meets Wednesdays, 6:30 p.m. in room 3013 in the Health Network.

Meetings give everyone a chance to share their experience with a certain issue such as alcohol in a student’s life, and share solutions and advice.

Having been part of a recovery group at the University of Connecticut, Wheeler wanted her next school to have that critical resource. With the help of the Counseling Center, CSU alumni Celeste Rakel, Schlaack and other students, Wheeler helped start Ram Recovery.

By providing a safe space for students suffering from addiction, Wheeler hopes to make it easier for recovering students to find the support they need.  

“There’s still that stigma on campus about students who are either struggling with addiction or even entering into recovery and what that means,” Wheeler said. “I kind of see it as another marginalized community on campus that doesn’t always get the support they need to make it through college.”

Ram Recovery strongly emphasizes the importance of peer-to-peer engagement in the recovery process.

“Hearing that people my age were suffering from the same kinds of things honestly saved my life,” cofounder Justyn Schlaack wrote in an email to the Collegian. “I thought I was all alone and every single week I was reminded that I wasn’t.”

Schlaack wrote how when she was living her life through alcohol, the weekly meetings were her only relief from otherwise constant depression and anxiety. Although she had been in support groups with older adults, nothing compared to speaking to someone who faced the same struggles of balancing the daily life of college.

Wheeler called the recovery group an essential resource in relation to mental health.

“By promoting recovery you’re promoting mental health,” Wheeler said. “And, by promoting mental health, you’re helping recovery.”

The group recently received a grant from Transforming Youth Recovery which they plan to use to continue building themselves as an accessible campus resource.

Students can join either by contacting them through their Facebook page, email or simply showing up to a meeting. The group continues to seek a permanent space on campus where members can gather outside of meeting times.

Collegian reporter Samantha Ye can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @samxye4.