Written by Fourth Estate Lifestyle Reporter Tatyana White-Jenkins
During the week of April 14, Mason’s student organization Active Minds held events to promote PostSecretU, an on-campus community art project.
Sponsored by Active Minds Inc. and Frank Warren, creator of the well-known PostSecret blog, PostSecretU gives students a safe and open forum on campus to share secrets, fears, dreams, regrets, desires, confessions and hidden acts of kindness. The project allows for students to find a release while raising awareness about issues surrounding mental health.
“We want to break the silence surrounding our inner struggles to let students know that their thoughts and feelings matter, and that they are not alone in their struggles,” said Melissa Simkol, president of Active Minds. “By doing so, we hope to increase the rate of help-seeking behaviors among students and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues.”
First came “Chalk It Up!,” a program that let students write positive and inspirational messages on the sidewalk that surrounded the PostSecretU display. Active Minds also held the PostSecretU Benefit Concert, featuring a performance by Meg Hutchinson. Hutchinson is an award winning singer and songwriter and a member of the Active Minds National Speakers Bureau of Mental Health Advocates.
“In between songs [Hutchinson] spoke about her recovering from a mental breakdown as a result of unmanaged bipolar disorder. She also read aloud some of Mason’s submitted secrets and gave her insight to the anonymous writers,” said Simkol.
With help in sponsoring and planning from WAVES, CAPS, Mason Cares and the Peer Empowerment Program, PostSecretU had a great turnout from students. With this being the second year PostSecretU was held, Active Minds hopes to continue with the success and get even more students involved in years to come.
Public Relations Chair of Active Minds, Emily Swain, said, “…it is definitely something we want to have back within a couple of years. And this year is the first year we’ve had the display outside, which has been really cool because we have a lot of people stop by when walking to class. We definitely hope to get a bigger buzz around the display each year because that is how we impact more people!”
The great amount of student involvement and support for PostSecretU was very evident and left a lasting impression on those involved.
“Right now we have about 350 postcards on display, and I’d say at least a quarter of them address issues such as depression, anxiety, other severe mental illnesses, self-harm and suicidal ideation or mentions of past attempts,” said Simkol. “Our university has over 30,000 students, so there must be a great deal of struggling students on our campus that aren’t seeking and/or receiving the help they need.”
“Personally, this is my absolute favorite event that Active Minds holds. It is a beautiful way to involve the student community while also promoting mental health and helping seeking behavior,” said Swain. “Even in the second year of our project, I still get chills from reading some of the secrets and being able to relate to someone who has gone through the same experiences I have. Not only do I feel more connected to the Mason community, but I feel more supported within myself by knowing other people have similar problems. Just by seeing that someone else struggles like I do, I feel more confident and open about talking about my experiences.”
PostSecretU was an overall success on Mason’s campus, generating hope and encouragement. The event also promoted openness and positivity while sparking awareness of the realities of mental illnesses on college campuses.
“It is a step towards creating a community where mental health is not so stigmatized and where people with mental health issues do not feel ashamed about being open about themselves,” said Swain. “By talking about our mental health, by talking about our problems, we take a step away from the power they hold over us.”
“It warms my heart when I have people walk up to me and let me know how much PostSecretU has eased some of the loneliness they felt, or when they thank me just for having the display up,” said Simkol. “It reminds me that even though mental health issues are stigmatized, there are still many people who are waiting to talk about these issues, and I am so happy to help start the conversation.”
(All photos by Gopi Raghu)