February 20, 2014 by The Triangle News Desk
Megan Hartz is a senior psychology major at Drexel who currently serves as president of Active Minds, a peer-to-peer mental health advocacy and awareness group on campus.
The Triangle: What’s your story? What brought you to Drexel?
Megan Hartz: Definitely the co-op program. I’m very interested in psychology, of course, and pretty much with a degree in psychology you kind of have to go [on to] graduate school, so I was really interested in a college that allowed for experience throughout school so that I wouldn’t have to end up taking a year off before graduate school.
TT: How did you become involved with Active Minds?
MH: I’m actually a vice president of scheduling and communications for Drexel’s Peer Counseling Helpline as well, and our adviser, Amy Hemming, asked us to bring Active Minds back to campus. One of our members sent out an email about being on a board position and being a mental health advocate, and it’s always been something really important to me. I kind of just applied for the position and I became vice president last year. As vice president, I realized I was more interested in taking on a bigger role in the club and making it have a bigger influence on our campus, so I applied for president and was elected into the role for this school year.
TT: What does Active Minds do on campus?
MH: Well, our goal is reducing the stigma of mental illness on campus by raising awareness and giving out resources related to online resources as well as on-campus resources. We work really closely with the Drexel Counseling Center, as well as the Drexel Peer Counseling Helpline.
TT: What’s the main message that Active Minds is trying to get across?
MH: We’re trying to get across that basically everyone has a mental health and everybody needs to maintain a mental health. Not everyone is affected by mental illness, but everyone knows somebody who is affected by mental illness. We really want to get a conversation started about these topics to reduce the stigma of them so more people feel welcomed to get help and reach out when they need it.
TT: What types of mental illnesses do you see often with students that may not be known as an illness?
MH: Definitely on our campus we see a lot of anxiety and depression, not necessarily significantly diagnosable, but of course anxiety is a natural feeling that everyone experiences at some time or another. There are varying levels of it, but we feel it’s good coming to us — talking about being overly anxious and having panic attacks. We also see a lot of students with bipolar disorder. [There are] students affected by eating disorders, anxiety, depression and bipolar [disorder] — pretty much anything that is stigmatized in the media — and a lot of people don’t realize how prevalent they are on college campuses.
TT: Does the group have direct interaction with the students affected by different disorders?
MH: We are not a self-help group by any means. We actually refer students out if they come to us with issues like that. We hold discussions at all of our meetings, particularly for one disorder, so we have one coming up March 11 about autism, and we have one of the doctoral students coming in to give details: kind of what it looks like in college students, the prevalence, and just trying to reduce the stigma a little bit more. We also have a lot of events where we’re not only giving out pamphlets but we also lately have been giving out tips to relieve stress. For our “Puppy Pawlooza” event we did last term, we handed out little treat bags of dog treats and on it we had ribbon tied around the bags that gave tips to reduce stress, as well as our contact information. So we’re always giving out extra information to not just reduce the stigma but also give people some pointers to making a healthy state themselves.
TT: Have you received any feedback on the group from students who are familiar with Active Minds?
MH: Regarding the [Puppy Pawlooza], we have heard a ton of great feedback. Everybody claimed that their stress levels were reduced significantly. Statistically, I don’t know how significantly, but at least they were reduced. Overall, we hear a lot of feedback, especially after our discussions or bigger events where we are giving out free things. [We gave] out chocolate covered popcorn for Valentine’s Day, and we received a lot of great feedback from those. We put on them tips to maintain healthy relationships with friends, family and significant others. We didn’t just focus on the negativity and the depression, so people were really open to that idea and weren’t necessarily focusing on the [potential] sadness of the holiday but focusing on the happy times to kind of raise happiness on campus.
TT: What is the overall goal of Active Minds?
MH: Probably our largest goal is to get more students involved and make more people aware that we exist. Last night, I actually did a talk on campus for a group called the Minority Association of Pre-medical Students. I did a talk on anxiety, depression and tips to relieve [their symptoms]. A lot of students were really receptive to the idea, but a lot of the ideas they had prior to my talk were pretty stigmatized. It was really great to have students ask a lot of questions. We’re trying to get more students involved with our organization, [but] if we mention mental illness at our table a lot of people won’t approach because of the stigma attached to it, so we’re really trying to break down the stigma on campus as a whole by trying to get students to come to our events and [by] providing resources.
TT: What do you think is the most stigmatized mental illness found on college campuses, or more specifically, at Drexel?
MH: I think a lot of people don’t realize mental illnesses affect a lot, that one-in-four college students are often affected by a mental illness themselves. I think in general a lot of people don’t realize how significant that number is. Probably the most stigmatized on a college campus [my answer is a little biased because I don’t know the statistics behind it] I would assume is depression just because it has the underlying factor of suicidal intentions, and a lot of people don’t quite understand suicidal behaviors. I have heard people claim that suicide is more so the person not caring about what others think or how it’s going to affect others in the future, where as studies have shown that with suicidal behavior, oftentimes it’s a cry for help rather than an attempt to actually end their life. Suicide is a person feeling so down and overwhelmed that they’re trying to get rid of the pain. I’ve heard people claim that depression doesn’t really exist, that it’s just people [having] self-pity. Some people just don’t know the significance [mental illness] can have on a person’s life.
TT: As president, do you find your role to be challenging at times? Rewarding?
MH: I think definitely, it’s just so rewarding for me. Last year as vice president, I actually created the first Mental Health Awareness Week on Drexel’s campus, so now we’re looking forward to the second annual awareness week.
TT: What are you involved with outside of Active Minds?
MH: Outside of the group I actually do a lot. I’m the vice president of the Drexel Peer Counseling Helpline. I am in Psi Chi; it’s the International Society of Psychology. I am also working on my senior thesis, finally finishing that up, and I actually have four part-time jobs: I am a nanny for two 14-year-olds; I am an applied behavioral analysis therapist for a four-year-old with autism; I am a research assistant for clinical drug trials at 49th and Market streets; and I do side research with two professors here with Drexel.
TT: What’s your favorite thing to do in Philly?
MH: I would definitely say my favorite thing to do in Philly is to try different restaurants, especially when we have Restaurant Week. It’s amazing to pay such a low amount to eat at some of the fancier restaurants that I don’t necessarily have the money for.
Triangle Talks is a weekly column that highlights members of the Drexel community.