“What can I do?”
We’ve been hearing this in a lot during the displays, and we’ve been hearing it in a lot of different contexts. This Friday, Nicole and I got to head into our home state for the display at Michigan State University. As we’ve grown used to, we pulled onto campus with rain all around us. We met with one of the chapter’s co-presidents, Collin Webster, to discuss the plan for the day. Collin brought us inside to meet the volunteers. Michigan State University’s Active Minds chapter is very new, but there was still a large group of non-member volunteers that showed up bright (overcast) and early to help out and ask “what can we do?”—even in the rain.
Since we were indoors for another display, we found a building manager to figure out exactly how much space we would have for the display at the indoor location.
“You may use a six foot table,” she told us. Assuming there was just a miscommunication in what we asked or what she meant, we asked again.
“Right, but how much overall space in here can we use for the display?”
“You have ONE six foot table. That’s it.”
We were all a bit nervous at this point. While we’ve certainly had plenty of experience trying to creatively work with the space available, fitting 1100 backpacks onto a 6ft surface wouldn’t work very well.
After a few minutes both sides learned that there had been a miscommunication and we learned that we would be able to use a much more realistic amount of space. By this time even more volunteers had arrived and started asking how they could help. We were able to set up the display inside a common area of the Michigan State University Union.
With the display up and running, we began hearing it over and over again from people stopping in. “What can I do?” Many people come through the display, read the stories, and then want to take some kind of action. One of the most moving experiences I have at these displays is seeing a visitor go from being unaware about these kinds of issues to pledging to be a mental health advocate within minutes.
I believe a big reason for this is that these kinds of things affect everyone. Whether it’s a student, a parent, faculty, staff, or a community member, so many people that stop in have some kind of story about how suicide has impacted their life in some way. For those that is hasn’t, mental health certainly has, as it’s something we all share.
Starting at Kent and continuing to MSU, I have been pulling visitors aside and asking for their reaction to the event, what they hope they and others will “take home” from seeing it, and if they have any stories they are comfortable sharing about how these topics have impacted their life. So far everyone that has agreed to share their reactions has shared some kind of connection they have to this issue. Keep an eye for an upcoming post where you can hear these.
So far, the chapters have had some pretty interesting and creative outlets to help people answer “what can I do?” While we always have literature and information on how to answer this question, it’s great to have something that people can do immediately to feel like they are taking a step in the right direction towards becoming a positive force in these issues. At every display we have a banner that says “Speak up. Reach out. I pledge to be a mental health advocate.”
Anyone that visits the display has the option of signing their name on this banner as a symbolic gesture acknowledging the importance of this cause and pledging to be proactive about it throughout the future. Some chapters have even more actionable activities ready for us when we arrive. At MSU the chapter had prepared a string of colorful fabric squares where anyone could write messages to those that may be struggling. People added their own thoughts to the squares and hung them up throughout the day.
We really enjoyed seeing this at the display because it allowed people to take action right then and there and start the conversation—and that’s one of our biggest goals.