Ashley Montagnese, a UD sophomore who was diagnosed with an eating disorder at 14, realized after treatment and plenty of emotional support that she wanted to help other people with the same disorder.
Active Minds, a mental health awareness club on campus, has allowed her to not only return the favor but also to continue maintaining her own mental health.
An organization with 126 members, Active Minds educates the student body and serves as a self-help club through various projects concerning mental health.
“Mental health [awareness] is something that is really important to me,” said Montagnese, who is now the service chair. “I think if it’s something that you love, you are getting something out of it. It is fun to be able to help each other and the community.”
This year the club has partnered with Oak Tree Corner, an Oakwood facility for grieving children. On the second of every month, club members visit the facility and play games with the kids and talk.
Active Minds also organizes a spring music festival for mental health awareness called “M-Fest.” At the festival, people can share their stories or read poems. Additionally, the organization sponsors several PATH point events throughout the school year, such as suicide prevention movie screenings and guest speakers.
At club meetings, Active Minds helps its members convey their own struggles in a supportive environment. Montagnese said meetings offer a safe place.
“[I]t was healing for me to meet all of the people who value mental health and self-care,” Montagnese said. “It’s very therapeutic to forget about school for a little bit and talk to people and have conversations.”
Club President Kristin Fraley said the mission of Active Minds is to serve as an outlet for its members to talk about their personal struggles and to break down the stigma of mental illness.
Fraley, the president for two years, said it’s important to provide a welcoming environment for its members to be able to express their emotions. Fraley said the student organization draws two types of individuals: those seeking help and psychology majors.
“Students have this idea that strong people don’t need anybody, but it’s the relationships we build with other people that keeps us strong,” Fraley said. “The most important thing you can have is the support of other people.”
Fraley said she joined Active Minds as a sophomore because she felt she would be able to contribute to the university as a mental health advocate and leader. Being a psychology major, Fraley found a club that sparked her interests by being able to help those struggling with mental health.
“Not only am I trying to make a difference in a major that I was already set in, but I also want to help lead other people to do the same thing,” Fraley said.
Terri J. Pelley, a clinical psychologist at UD’s Counseling Center and the outreach coordinator for Active Minds, said stress and anxiety levels among UD students increase because of midterms and finals. Pelley said more students are seeking help at the Counseling Center this year.
“Normally there is a spike in October of students who come in,” Pelley said. “This year, there was a long line to get into the center within a few weeks of classes.”
Pelley said when students come to the Counseling Center, psychologists usually suggest to students that they get involved on campus. She will often recommend they join mental health advocacy clubs, such as Active Minds.
In previous years, Active Minds was more lecture-based and focused on mental health advocacy, Fraley said. Now, the club meetings include a segment where members are encouraged to express how they feel and talk about their personal experiences in a “judge-free zone,” according to Fraley.
She said the club has been building relationships among its members because of activities and the meetings. For example, Active Minds is in the works of hosting a bake sale and a hiking trip in Yellow Springs. It will serve as a “mental health day” for its members.
Active Minds meets every other Monday from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. in Artstreet Studio C and is open to new members anytime.
Photos courtesy of Kristin Fraley