You already know her as one of the masterminds behind Skidmore Scribe, but this year, junior Siena Tugendrajch is channeling her organizational and directorial wizardry into an entirely different student group: Active Minds. The group only recently became an official chapter in the vast, international network aimed at changing the conversation about mental health on college campuses, but it’s already making strides with the help of Siena and the Skidmore student body.
Her Campus: What inspired you to start Skidmore’s Active Minds chapter?
Siena Tugendrajch: I wanted to start an Active Minds chapter at Skidmore because of the lack of mental health literacy on our campus. Mental health literacy refers to the knowledge and recognition of mental health disorders that contribute to the management and prevention of these illnesses. Though young adults have the highest prevalence of diagnosable forms of mental illness, our age group shows the lowest rate of help-seeking behaviors. I wanted to become part of the Active Minds community, which includes over 350 chapters in the United States, Canada and Australia, to start changing the conversation about mental health and encourage positive health behaviors at Skidmore. By joining an already established organization, we now have access to event planning resources and we also are able to collaborate with students who promote mental health awareness at other colleges.
HC: Does the club relate to your academic studies or intended career?
ST: Completely! As a Psychology and English double major, I had previously considered becoming a high school English teacher, a guidance counselor or one of those lucky people who comes up with alliterative names for nail polishes. After learning about the developing field of mental health literacy research and training programs, I’ve become interested in enhancing the public’s understanding of mental disorders through a variety of public health initiatives, just like the awareness campaigns that make up the cornerstone of the Active Minds mission. Though I plan to eventually attend graduate school for public health policy, administration or management, I’m currently working on a public health education campaign to reduce the stigma associated with social phobia on Skidmore’s campus.
HC: The aim of the national Active Minds organization is to change the conversation about mental health on college campuses. What exactly does this mean and why is it important for Skidmore?
ST: Despite the availability of effective treatment options for many disorders, many people still seem ashamed to seek help. People sometimes explicitly or implicitly associate certain mental illnesses with personal weakness, a lack of self-control and/or dangerous behaviors. Changing the conversation means increasing our awareness of symptoms and potential treatments for a variety of illnesses so that Skidmore can become an environment where people feel comfortable talking about and seeking help both for mental illness and also for stress-related difficulties.
HC: Do students need to have experience in Psychology in order to participate in the club or can any student join?
ST: Not at all! Though many of our members are Psychology majors, we appreciate having a wide variety of perspectives when planning events and designing awareness campaigns. We meet Wednesdays at 7 p.m. in Ladd 206 and everyone in the Skidmore community is welcome to attend these meetings. We’re also looking forward to collaborating with organizations such as HIPS, Peer Health Educators and the Center for Sex and Gender, as well as any other club that would like to enhance mental health literacy at Skidmore.
HC: What are your hopes and goals for the club?
ST: Active Minds has gotten off to running start, so I hope that we keep this momentum going and continue changing how people view and understand mental illness on our campus. Selfishly, I’m excited that I have the rest of the semester as well as my entire senior year to host all kinds of events and participate in Active Minds national programming, such as National Stress Out Day in April and National Day Without Stigma in October.
HC: I understand that you hosted an event recently called “Help-Seeking Panel.” What did the panel entail? Do you feel it was successful?
ST: Our first event as Active Minds was a panel about how to help a friend who may be struggling with a mental illness and/or stress and how to seek help for yourself at Skidmore. The panel featured two Active Minds members who have had experience helping a friend, the director of the counseling center and a professor from the Psychology department who is also a practicing clinician in the greater Saratoga area. Our panelists answered all questions thoughtfully and gave a variety of suggestions to audience members. As the moderator of the panel, I feel that the event positively introduced our club as a helpful and knowledgeable resource to the Skidmore community.
HC: This semester included National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. What did you and Active Minds do to recognize the event?
ST: For Eating Disorder Awareness Week, we put up educational posters about anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder around campus to raise awareness about the high prevalence of these conditions in our age group. We also put out wallet-sized cards on tables in Case Center with information about how to seek help for eating disorders. As part of Operation Beautiful, a national campaign to promote positive body image, we asked people to write positive affirmations for themselves and others to stick on their mirrors or in their planners.
HC: Does Active Minds have any other events planned for the semester?
ST: As part of the 10-Year Anniversary Campaign, Active Minds would like 10,000 people to raise $1,000,000 (or $1,000 per chapter) for the organization. It takes a lot to build and sustain the Active Minds mission, especially now that there are over hundreds of chapters to support. To raise money for the organization, we’re putting together a fundraising event this month, possibly a 5K run-walk, to allow people to raise awareness on our campus as part of National Stress Out Day.
HC: What other on-campus resources can students turn to for help or advice when dealing with these issues?
ST: Students can seek professional help at the Counseling Center and Health Services. The Active Minds website has links to all kinds of online resources for specific concerns, such as the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation, the National Eating Disorders Foundation, the National Alliance for Mental Illness and the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapy.
If you want to support Siena and Active Minds – or even just learn more about what they’re doing on our campus – check out their Facebook group or get involved directly by attending their weekly Wednesday meeting!