Mental Health Monday

UW-River Falls student Brandi Weiland and others have restarted a university chapter of Active Minds as part of efforts to address student mental health on campus. On Monday Weiland, wearing a pink sweatshirt, spoke with students visiting the Active Minds booth, an effort to connect with students and make them feel less alone. UWRF/Julian Emerson photo.

Active Minds, Mental Health Mondays addressing mental health needs at UW-River Falls

Efforts intended to serve as safe, positive connection points for students


March 7, 2024 – Two years ago, as one aspect after another of her life unraveled, Brandi Weiland felt like she hit rock bottom.

Her brother died in 2020, and that incident seemed to set Weiland’s mood on a downward spiral. The University of Wisconsin-River Falls senior double majoring in elementary education and stage and screen arts said her mental health difficulties snowballed and her spirit sagged.

“My mental health was really bad,” she said, “and it kept getting worse. I was suicidal.”

Then, amid her struggles, one day a fellow student reassured Weiland, of Hawkins, that it would be OK, that she was a worthy person. That unexpected interaction not only lifted Weiland emotionally but may have saved her life, she said.

Now Weiland and other UW-River Falls students hope to give their peers a much-needed emotional boost. Weiland, president of the UW-River Falls Active Minds chapter, and others have revived Active Minds, a student-to-student effort intended to promote mental health through direct interactions with their peers.

Active Minds includes a variety of student-led mental health efforts on campuses across the U.S. It existed previously at UW-River Falls but had been discontinued.

The chapter at UW-River Falls was recently reinstated as an official student organization after students expressed an interest in restarting it as a means of helping their peers’ mental health in the wake of four student suicides at the university last semester. The chapter is run by students and is advised by Annemarie Schwery, a counselor at UW-River Falls who has experience working with student organizations.

Schwery said Active Minds members are brainstorming ideas for different events and bringing speakers to campus to focus on mental health needs. They aim to create a space for students to connect with each other, to simply have positive interactions with the aim of easing mental health concerns.

“It is all about the students creating a community in which they feel safe discussing mental health and knowing when to seek professional assistance,” Schwery said.

On Monday Active Minds was a part of Mental Health Mondays, a monthly event organized by Student Health and Counseling Services and the Student Involvement Office focused on selfcare, wellness and promoting positive student interactions as a means of easing students’ mental health concerns. Attendees received free prizes, food, created their own essential oil mixes and visited the Active Minds booth.

Weiland, Active Minds president, spoke with students as they stopped by the booth. She and her peers discussed classwork and life events. She showed students colorful journals in which students can document their dreams.

“Having conversations like what is happening tonight, it makes me feel like this is helping other students, like this is serving a meaningful purpose,” Weiland said during a short break between conversations. “I hope this continues after I graduate and continues to help more students.”

Organizers of Mental Health Mondays have the same hope. Started in 2019, Mental Health Mondays used to take place in more of a traditional classroom manner, but those events typically attracted no more than 25 students, said Elise Peters, events and activities coordinator for the Student Involvement Office.

So last year organizers “took the event to students,” Peters said, bringing it to the Student Involvement area on the University Center’s first floor. Since then, the number of students attending Mental Health Mondays has grown significantly, she said. On Monday, 85 students took part.

The new approach offers less in-depth services than previously, she said, but that is offset by reaching a greater number of students. A softer, less-formal format that entices students with free prizes and food seems to appeal to more of them when it comes to mental health, she said, and can serve as a gateway to deeper discussions and additional help for students who need it.

“The way we are doing this now meets a need for a greater number of students,” Peters said. “We’re trying to reach as many students as we can, to do what we can to help their mental health status. We’re seeing that providing a space where students are simply connecting with one another is powerful.”

McKenna Delany, a senior communications major from Luck, was doing her best to connect with students attending Monday’s event, where she was one of numerous students representing the Student Involvement Office. Sitting at a table where students checked in for Mental Health Mondays, she greeted students and directed them to the Active Minds booth, an essential oils station, and a location for free food after they spun a wheel modeled after the popular TV game show “Wheel of Fortune.” The theme of this month’s Mental Health Mondays was the importance of sleep and relaxation.

“Did you spin the wheel? What did you get?” Delany asked one student. A moment later, she told two students who had just spun the wheel that they could choose from a dozen or so colored sleep masks on the table in front of her, one of multiple prize types students could choose from.

“It’s Mental Health Monday! It’s about sleep, and you all could use some more sleep,” Delany told them.

Such interactions are what Mental Health Mondays, and efforts like Active Minds, are all about, Delany said. They serve to connect students, to let them know they aren’t alone and isolated, she said.

“I hear from people who interact and they say they realize ‘Oh, this feels a lot better than when I am by myself all the time,’” Delany said. “We’re not going to solve the root of a problem at an event like this. But we can help students feel more involved and serve as a space where they can interact with their peers in a positive setting.”

Peters agrees that Mental Health Mondays, Active Minds and other mental health initiatives are serving to connect students and are especially needed in the wake of the student deaths last semester.

“Events like this may not change the world, but they can serve as a conversation starter,” Peters said. “It’s about the shared experience of being a UWRF student, about students connecting with each other. Given the mental health needs we’re seeing today, I don’t see this going away anytime soon.”

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