On a radiant Friday morning, the Active Minds club — a club which discusses mental health — stood at the Scramble Light in the intersection of Riverside Avenue and McKinley Avenue.
Members of the club stood with donuts and hot chocolate, eager to give them to the Ball State University community. The donuts were given out on plates with encouraging messages and words of affirmation on them.
Shelby Kofoot, secretary of Active Minds, got the idea for passing out donuts and hot chocolate at the Scramble Light based on an event her sorority, Alpha Gamma Delta, held in the past.
“It was a great success,” Kofoot said, referring to the past event. “We raised so much money for our philanthropy.”
When the members of Active Minds talked about doing a tabling event, Kofoot pitched the idea of having donuts, and the other members positively received the idea.
Kofoot also noted that one of the main inspirations to give away the donuts was the motivational messages written on the plates with the goal to have an “inspirational message” given to everyone.
Active Minds is a nonprofit organization founded by Allison Malmon after her only brother died by suicide. Since the organization’s inception in 2003, over 600 chapters of Active Minds have started at high schools and colleges across the United States, including at Ball State.
On that October morning out at the Scramble Light, Kafoot said the Active Minds club attempted to break “down stereotypes and stigmas that we often hear about mental illnesses or mental health issues.”
A Personal Connection
Kelsey Dunn has always had a keen interest in psychology, even though she originally applied to attend Ball State for musical theatre.
Dunn, a Georgia native, originally found herself interested in psychology after her younger brother was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome, a disorder where people repeat movements or sounds uncontrollably, according to Mayo Clinic, ADHD and OCD. She said the family therapy sessions she attended to help understand her brother drew her closer to psychology, and in her second year of college, she changed her major from musical theatre to psychology.
Like Dunn, Kofoot’s passion for mental health awareness comes from her family. Her grand uncle, who has Down syndrome, was told by doctors he would not make it past his teenage years. Kofoot noted their close connection and how it motivated her.
“He was so happy telling about what's going on in his life,” Kofoot said. “It was so fun for me to listen and to communicate with him.”
In high school, she was also part of a program named Best Buddies, where students can sit and have lunch with those who have disabilities. Kofoot said being able to communicate with these students helped “better connect everyone in the school.”
“Those lunches were my favorite lunches because [the students with disabilities at the table] knew how to make my day when I was having a bad day,” Kofoot said.
Dunn had come into one of Kofoot’s psychology classes to talk about Active Minds, and Kofoot wanted to “try it out.” In her first year of college, she felt like she was “missing out” because she wasn’t in any clubs, different from when she was in high school where she was class president and vice president of her school’s National Honor Society chapter.
In her third year of college, Dunn joined Active Minds and became fundraising chair. She noted how her experiences with her own eating disorder, which caused her to take a semester off of school, helped her become passionate about mental health awareness.
“I didn't have a lot of support [at school],” Dunn said. “Now that I like to talk about my experience openly, I know a lot of people who also struggle with the same things.”
Dunn, who is now president of Active Minds in her fourth year in college, noted the many stereotypes about eating disorders she encountered when she was getting help.
“It was hard to get … treatment and to ask for help,” Dunn said. “I wasn't in the stereotypical eating disorder body.”
Dunn noted her goal with leading Active Minds is to “educate the next generation of [mental health] advocates” and to “make sure people are informed in their advocacy.”
Members of the Active Minds organization pose for a photo at one of their meetings. BSU Active Minds, Photo Provided.
Reaching Out to the Community
At the start of the fall 2022 semester, Dunn was the only member of the club that did not graduate. She then dedicated her resources to recruiting new people into the club, which led to new members joining at the activity fair before the start of the school year.
One of those new members was Madison Pierce-Holtzman. She first became aware of the club after her HONR 100 instructor mentioned the club during class.
“I went there, and I just loved it,” she said.
Pierce-Holtzman said she likes spreading awareness about mental health, as her family has a history with mental health disorders. She also noted how “warm and inviting” the members of the club were when she first went to a meeting.
“I don't have to worry about being judged because these are people who have either struggled with mental health or … they know people who have struggled,” Pierce-Holtzman said.
Now the event chair for the club, Pierce-Holtzman’s responsibility is to get more involved with campus activities.
“My main goal is to let people know that we're around,” she said.
Kofoot said the support of anonymous donors has allowed the club to partake in more events. With finals week approaching, Active Minds will be holding a “Stress Less” event in various residence halls where members of the club will be having service animals available and passing out stress balls.
For Halloween, the club held a Trunk-or-Treat event where they passed out information for counseling resources.
Dunn said one of the ways students can help break the stigma of mental health is to continue to talk about it. She noted talking about mental health has become more accepted in recent years. However, she said there is no stigma society has “completely broken.”
“I think we have a lot further to go with less common mental illnesses,” Dunn said.
Kofoot said the easiest way for students to help break mental health stigmas is to share information they see on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook.
During their weekly meetings, members of the club present about a mental health condition that they are passionate about to help educate themselves and other members of the club.
Pierce-Holtzman said the “passionate” people involved in the club helped give her a support system in her first semester in college.
Dunn said that the club has grown significantly within the semester.
“I really care a lot about this club,” Dunn said. “I'm sad that … it's starting to grow … right as I'm [graduating from college].”
She also said she hopes the people in the club will stay caring about the club and its progress after she graduates. She hopes Active Minds can do more across campus and grow up from the “little club that meets Thursday nights.”
Pierce-Holtzman hopes to reach out to incoming first-year students more in the future to let them know there is a space welcome for them.
“I know … it can be very stressful to just start college and [be] in the dorms,” she said. “I just want to let people know we are here for them.”
Contact Grayson Joslin with comments at Grayson.firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GraysonMJoslin.