Talks with Vox: Active Minds and National Eating Disorder Awareness Week

Hoyas all have a lot going on in their lives and take on a lot of pressure, whether it be from classes, their plethora of activities, or even the pressure to keep up with their fellow Hoyas. With all this stress often comes serious mental health issues. Vox chatted with Ben Saunders (SFS ’15), founder of the newest campus club Active Minds, to learn a bit about the organization, what they have in store for this week, what it means for the Georgetown Community.

VOX: Can you tell Vox a little about the organization Active Minds? What exactly is it and why is it important for Georgetown?

Saunders: The mission of Active Minds is to create an open conversation on the subject of mental health, and we founded this organization as this was something we felt was lacking at Georgetown. It aims to achieve a community that both recognizes the importance of being mindful of one’s own mental health and understands help seeking to not be an indicator of weakness, rather as one of courage in facing directly the complicated issues of one’s mental health.

We often are misconceived to be a group for only those who have directly experienced issues related to mental health, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. If you’re interested in better understanding the nature of mental health, appreciating the culture of stigma surrounding it and how to combat it, or being able to better support friends and peers, this organization enables you to do so. We hope that through our programming and raising awareness, Georgetown can be a place where it’s okay to tell a friend you’re going through a rough time, where “I have an appointment at CAPS” is just as easy to say as “I have an appointment at Student Health,” and where all students have the opportunity to capitalize fully on the opportunities for personal and emotional development as well as intellectual in their time at Georgetown.

VOX: What is National Eating Disorder Awareness week and why is it important for Georgetown?

Saunders: National Eating Disorder Awareness week seeks to raise awareness for eating disorders at offer education on their nature. Even as society has progressively become more active in promoting body-positivity, comments like Megan Trainor’s “I wasn’t strong enough to have an eating disorder” betray an ignorance towards eating disorders even among those involved in movements for redefining physical beauty.

As far as the salience to college students is concerned, the National Eating Disorder Association estimates that eating disorder prevalence has risen to 10-20 percent of college females and 4-10 percent of college males. A recent 2011 study in The Journal of Treatment & Prevention corroborates this opinion with data that evidences a steady increase in eating disorders over the past decade. Some of this is hopefully due to a greater willingness to self-report and seek help, but the fact remains that eating disorders still exist at alarming prevalence rates.

Georgetown is unfortunately not exempt from this problem, if anything the stresses for perfection we’re so accustomed to on this campus exacerbate the danger of eating disorders. There are a lot of students struggling with eating disorders who could benefit from the support of an aware and educated community.

VOX: Could you tell Vox about some of the events for the week?

Saunders: For this week our big event is going to be our body positive photo shoot on Friday (bring yourself and your friends!) where students can come and show support for body positivity by taking pictures which will be shared via social media of them with customizable prompts celebrating general self-image love. We’ll also be partnering with HES in developing some literature with information on eating disorders as well as asking students to submit via notecards what the term “eating disorder” means to them, and I’m excited we’ve got the opportunity to both educate and get a sense of what the current knowledgeableness of the student body is on the issue.

NEDA is hosting a walk on March 22nd raising money for eating disorder support programs, which Active Minds is planning on attending, and we’re also hopefully going to be able to work with other organizations to put together a panel discussion to be held sometime around then.

VOXHow do you hope NEDA week impacts the student body?

Saunders: Since founding Active Minds, the positive reception by both the student body and the administration has confirmed to me the intense interest the Georgetown community has in supporting others. I hope that NEDA week serves not only to affirm to those directly affected by eating disorders that they are in a community that accepts and supports them, but also provides students not directly affected with the informational tools necessary to be effective allies for their friends and peers in the future.

VOX: Is this the first NEDA week at Georgetown and are there any other events planned through Active Minds to raise awareness of mental health for the rest of the year?

Saunders: We actually hosted a similar body positive photo shoot last year during our first semester during NEDA week, and I think it still stands out as likely our most successful event as far as student participation, so I’m really excited to see how this year turns out!

While as a second semester senior I’m no longer on the board of the organization, I understand that we’ve got some pretty fantastic programming coming up. In the interest of promoting conversation, we’ll continue to focus on such events as dinner/movie discussions as well as hosting our student speaker series, which allows students to discuss mental health in the context of experiences shared by other Hoyas. We’re also hoping to work with CAPS and the peer-training student organization Creating Survivors to host a peer-education/peer-support training series similar to Safety Net training offered to RAs and administrators, but one that is targeted towards specific issues in each installment rather than just giving a brief and inevitably shallow overview of the issue in general.

It’s our first semester as a recognized campus organization, and we definitely encourage everyone who has ideas about programing conducive to our mission to reach out and get involved! If you want to keep up to date on our programming, you can like our Facebook page to receive updates or email to be added to our listserv. We hope to see everyone out at some events in the future!

Photo: Active Minds via Facebook

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