Active Minds seeks to rid mental illness of stigma

Following the suicide of her son last year, Maria Holmes felt students suffering from mental illness were often judged and stereotyped unfairly, due to unhealthy stigmas surrounding mental health. She is organizing a campus group hoping to change that.

Brynn Castro | The Houstonian

Brynn Castro | The Houstonian


Holmes, the assistant director for the Elliott T. Bowers Honors College of Sam Houston State University, is teaming up with the resources available at the newly renovated Student Health Center and a group of students to launch an “Active Minds” chapter at SHSU, the first chapter of its kind to exist within the Texas State University System.

“Many college-aged students, one in four actually, experience some type of depression or mental illness and the greatest problem is that they’re afraid to talk about it because of the stigma,” Holmes said. “So because of the reluctance to share their problems or seek help, the students are experiencing an increase in mental health issues, and problems and suicides are increasing.”

According to Holmes, roughly 1,000 college students die by suicide every year—some of the most plagued groups consisting of athletes, honors students and veterans. Anthony Bagwell, Active Minds publicity chair and a senior physics major, said he almost become a part of these statistics in 2011 as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder he developed after his experiences as a combat veteran stationed in Afghanistan.

“I have battled my own demons, ultimately attempting suicide in early 2011 instead of reaching out for help – something all too prevalent in our society because of the stigma associated with mental health disorders – and it was an act which forced me to change my perspective,” Bagwell said. “After a Marine brother of mine took his own life in late 2014, I knew that I could no longer keep quiet—that I must share my story and my experiences with those whom might listen, with those whom might benefit from knowing that they are truly not alone. We’re talking about human lives here.”

Holmes said not only does she hope Active Minds can raise awareness and provide a welcoming environment where students can open up but impact even larger goals such as expanding mental health insurance coverage.

“Our goal is simply to raise awareness about mental health and to combat any stigma surround it,” Active Minds research liaison and junior psychology major Jaren Crist said. “We need as much help as we can get. By joining Active Minds you become part of something so much bigger than you or even than other members in Active Minds. You become part of a network and a legacy.”
Although Holmes said her personal interest in research regarding mental health sparked after the passing of her son, a group of her students were actually the ones who proposed the chapter launch which bloomed out of a class project assigned in Holmes’ University 1301 honors course in fall 2014.

“Active Minds is not just about suicide, it’s about all types of depression,” Holmes said. “They also look at bullying and they help support LGBT students. So it’s any type of mental health and wellness that young people are experiencing, and we hope to just provide lots of information, lots of support and do lots of programming just to raise that awareness among all the students and even people in the community.”

Although the program is still in the process of getting approved by Student Activities, Holmes said that in preparation of their anticipated approval, she and the student officiants are already brainstorming ideas for programming next semester. After the group’s first meeting in January, Holmes said some of the ideas they came up with included various stress-relief activities and suicide-awareness demonstrations.

“I feel like students at SHSU could really make a difference,” Active Minds president and junior math major Rebecca Wood said. “We are a diverse campus, and it’s a great organization to make people aware. We are a close knit group of people and we’re all leaders and I think every college student should play a part in spreading awareness.”
For more information about Active Minds, contact Maria Holmes, Ed.D. at or 936-294-4157.


There is one comment

  1. HaroldAMaio

    Minds seeks to rid mental illness of stigma

    Active Minds argues there is one, teaches there is one. That is not an action of an active mind.
    Does the administration there actually allow validation of a "stigma?" That is contrary to any ethic of education.

    Harold A. Maio

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