A Discussion with Active Minds' Secretary Tara Branch

Active Minds is a Registered Student Organization (RSO) on the UMass Amherst campus that focuses on increasing the conversation about mental illness on college campuses. The group works to provide those struggling with support and has hopes to make mental illness a topic that we can discuss without hesitation, a topic that goes without stigma. We talked to Active Minds’ secretary, Tara Branch, about the group’s diligent and influential work on campus.

Her Campus UMass Amherst: What is mission of the Active Minds Organization?

Tara Branch: Our mission is to get rid of the stigma that surrounds mental health — specifically on college campuses — through conversation and getting people comfortable talking about a sensitive subject. Our mission is to take all of the shame that is associated with mental illnesses and throw it out the window.

HC: Can you explain what your group does on campus?

TB: We do a mixture of things. Our most frequent activity is that we hold meetings every other Wednesday at 7 p.m., which are usually held in the Campus Center. What we do at those meetings varies week-to-week, but usually an activity surrounding some sort of relevant issue is done. Our goal at those meetings is to get people to talk about, if not their own experiences, anything they hear just from being on a college campus. We also host the annual “Stigma Tree," where people on campus can write a message regarding mental illness and hang it on a tree. It’s physically beautiful to see a tree with all of these colorful hanging pieces of paper, but when you look closer you see tragic stories but also uplifting messages, which is what it’s all about.

HC: What future events does your group have planned?

TB: We are hosting the “Out of the Darkness Walk," held on April 30 on campus. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is helping us out. The walk is a day to fundraise for continued research on suicide and methods of preventing it from occurring. It’s also a day to acknowledge all those that have struggled with it, and show our appreciation for the people who are sharing their experiences with others.

HC: Why do you think this group is important to have on college campuses?

TB: Well, the majority of mental illnesses show themselves before the age of 24. So, now is the time to be discussing it and learning the signs of it before you are launched into adulthood and don’t have an understanding of what any of it is. Also, college can be a really hard time for people, and they might not understand why it’s hard. I think it’s good to have this group because it may offer an explanation to people as to why things are difficult.

HC: What is your hope for the future of this organization and group on campus?

TB: I have big dreams. I hope for the group’s membership to grow and for more people on campus to know who we are and what our message is. I guess my biggest dream, maybe 200 years from now, is for this club to not even exist. I hope that someday there will be no shame for people who are suffering or trying to help friends who are.

HC: Is there anything else you would like students to know about Active Minds at UMass Amherst?

TB: Freshman year, I was looking for a group of people who would be as open-minded as I was. I can honestly say that joining Active Minds has changed my entire college experience, and changed what I want to do with my life.

Images: 1,

All other images courtesy of Tara Branch.