Active Minds Group Grows on Campus, Around Country

Megan Robinson

Co-News Editor

On March 24, 2000, college senior Brian Malmon ended his life. He had been silently suffering from schizoaffective disorder for three years. This disorder, gone untreated for so long, led him to suicide. However, this tragic ending led to an inspirational group’s beginning.

This suicide inspired his sister, then University of Pennsylvania freshmen Alison Malmon, to form an organization called Open Minds. She recognized that mental illness was an issue affecting many more college students than just her brother, but that few were discussing it.

She founded the organization to focus on fighting the stigma of mental illness on college campuses, and encourage students to seek help. She wanted to prevent future tragedies like her brother’s from occurring.

The organization originally started at the University of Pennsylvania in 2001, but it quickly spread to other campuses. By 2003, it renamed itself Active Minds and was a non-profit organization. Active Minds established a national headquarters in Washington D.C. It currently has over 190 chapters on college campuses, including one at McDaniel College.

McDaniel’s chapter of Active Minds officially began in the fall of 2007. Kate Mastroianni, a counselor at the Wellness Center, approached psychology professor, Holly Chalk, about the idea of starting an Active Minds chapter at McDaniel. Although Chalk had never heard of the organization before, she was intrigued by its involvement in her field of psychology and its focus on a specific issue. Chalk then approached two students that struck her as particularly knowledgeable in this area, now graduates Britany Eyler and former Active Minds president Kate Maloney, about possible involvement in the group.

Eyler and Maloney were interested, and they became the first co-presidents of the McDaniel chapter of the group. Active Minds formed here because “a group of students here saw the same problems that Allison did and wanted to do something about it,” said Maloney. According to the Active Minds website, college students ages 18-24 are at a higher risk of developing mental illness than any other age group.

Although it’s only been on campus for about two years, this Active Minds chapter has one of the largest club memberships on campus of about 30 to 40 consistent members. Sophomore Active Minds member Jennifer Romano described the group as very well-organized, and advisor Chalk is impressed by the group’s self-sufficiency.

Chalk also described it as one of the most active groups on campus. They’ve brought attention to mental health issues with events such as movie screenings and guest speakers. However, they’ve also held a wide variety of events that focus on relieving stress. Some of these include “Sing Your Stress Away,” karaoke nights, “Regress to Your Childhood Day,” which had childhood activities such as crafts and coloring, “Mental Health Monologues,” a show similar to the “Vagina Monologues” that focuses on mental health, and one of their most well known events, “What’s Your Secret?”.

“What’s Your Secret?” was based on the popular book series and website, Post Secret. People submit anonymous postcards with their secrets to the Post Secret organization and they are posted on the website or published in one of the books. This provides an outlet for people to share their secrets anonymously.

Last spring Active Minds held their first “What’s Your Secret?” event where postcards anonymously submitted by students, faculty, and staff were displayed for all campus members to view.

“Sharing secrets in an anonymous way can be cathartic and I think it also helps for people to read others’ secrets and realize that they are not alone,” said Maloney. The participants were not alone. Active Minds received nearly 200 submissions and Maloney thought the response was tremendous.

This fall, during Justice Week, Active Minds held a smaller “What’s your Secret” event on Nov. 5 in Kriel Lounge. Supplies were available for students to make and submit cards in the lounge. Students also had the option of taking cards with them and dropping off the completed cards in campus mail to be collected later by Active Minds. The submitted cards were then displayed at the Justice Week finale on Nov. 6 and a total of 33 cards were submitted for Friday’s finale.

Eric Brenan, current Active Minds President, said Active Minds is planning holding a larger “What’s Your Secret” event in the spring, similar to last year’s event. Brenan said the purpose of the Nov. 5 event was to get people thinking about the larger event in the spring. He also said all the cards submitted for Justice Week, as well as any cards that are submitted in campus mail after Justice Week, will be saved and used for the spring event.

Brenan said he feels this event embodies the purpose of the club because the anonymity allows participants to freely discuss issues important to them.

The entries from Justice Week varied from dark to comical. One read “What if no one wants me, even after I lose weight?” and another “Megan Fox is the devil”. There was also one obviously submitted by a professor that read “Sometimes I’m afraid that the students know more than me.”

Brenan said after last spring’s event Active Minds sold a DVD of all the postcard submissions. He said they’re planning on creating a book of submissions when Active Minds has collected more postcards.

For more information on Active Minds or the “What’s Your Secret?” event contact Holly Chalk at