By Taylor Locke ’24, 2023 Mental Health Week Program Coordinator and Active Minds Club President
The first week of October is Mental Illness Awareness Week, and in its recognition, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) brought back its annual Mental Health Week for the first time since the pandemic. This program, predominantly a student-led initiative, was headed by the Active Minds student club in close partnership with some of the other mental health-focused student groups on campus, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the Student Health Advisory Council (SHAC) of the Rensselaer Health Center, and Morgan’s Message.
In the span of just two months, students were able to raise more than $5,000 for the program, plan more than two dozen activities for students to participate in throughout the week (totaling 96 hours), and garner the support of nearly 50 campus and community organizations to participate in the program’s culminating Stronger Than The Stigma Fair.
“This week is a great step toward a student body that is more educated and willing to be open to discussions about mental health,” said Ben Viner, RPI’s current Grand Marshal. “By empowering student voices and building mutual trust, students and administration foster an environment to combat stigma and build community.”
There were plenty of events for students to attend throughout the week — from the Kickoff Ice Cream Social at EMPAC (which was attended by the school’s new Provost, Rebecca W. Doerge) to the Mental Health Night Hockey Game, supported by the Division of Student Life, which was immediately followed by a free skate on the ice for students. The fair was also a phenomenal success — with free food, live music performances, therapy dogs, games, tie dye, free healing touch therapy services, and nearly $1,000 worth of donated raffle prizes. Among the fair’s attendees was our 19th President, Martin A. Schmidt.
One of the most important aspects of the program was the RPI Mental Health Town Hall, which was hosted by members of both Active Minds and SHAC. This town hall was student-led to encourage students to take a proactive role in mental health issues on campus, to share information at the peer-to-peer level, and to create an environment where other students felt comfortable bringing up important issues regarding mental health.
Any feedback received during the Mental Health Town Hall, along with comments left in the Active Minds Anonymous Suggestion Box (which was available in the Student Union throughout the entirety of Mental Health Week), are currently being compiled into a report, which will communicate topics that students want to continue the conversation on within the RPI community to increase levels of mental well-being on campus. This report will be made available to the Rensselaer community when it is completed.
With the overall success of the program, students have already begun planning for next year, with the Student Senate even looking into creating an official Mental Health Committee that will oversee the program and advocate for student mental health on campus. These efforts all coincide with other major mental health initiatives such as the school’s Mainstreaming Mental Well-Being strategic plan, which is being funded through a grant from the Lee Family Foundation and developed in partnership with the Jed Foundation, a leading national college mental health organization. In this post-pandemic era, mental health has become a much more openly discussed topic. Judging by the success of this year’s Mental Health Week, mental health programming is definitely something RPI students would like to see more of.
For more information about the program and to view the student feedback report once it has been published, visit the program’s website.