New Club Aims to Increase Mental Health Awareness on Campus

In the past several years, Williston has made strides to increase their awareness surrounding the mental health of students. The school has brought in numerous speakers and directed attention to Suicide Prevention Week, which takes place in September. Now, a new club is taking a more “active” role around mental health on campus.

Active Minds is a brand-new club this fall, and is led in part by Christa Talbot-Syfu, Senior Associate Director of Admission, in partnership with Anne Zager, a School Counselor. Talbot-Syfu says Active Minds exists “to change the conversation around mental health and encourage those that need help to seek help.”

On Saturday, September 30, Active Minds planned their first large fundraiser with the help of the girls varsity soccer team, hosting a “Green Out” during their night game. The club sold green bandanas for $2 in the days leading up to the event, as well as during the game.

Talbot-Syfu said the event was a great kick off to the year.

“The green bandana project tends to be a great first fundraiser and event, so we decided to try to find a date in September that gave us some time to get the group up and running,” she said.

Jayme Cerasuolo, a sophomore from Hampden, Massachusetts, and a first-year member of the Girls Soccer team, helped bring the club from her old school to Williston.

“I feel Active Minds is a very important club because mental health for student athletes is often stigmatized and not talked about enough, although many struggle with it,” she said. “By spreading the awareness of mental health, which is what active minds does, it makes the culture surrounding mental health more talked about.”

Catie Spence, co-captain of the soccer team and senior from Amherst, Mass., appreciated the large attendance and noted the importance of supporting an organization like Active Minds.

“Having such a great turnout created an awesome energy at the game that really fueled our play. The cheering from the stands definitely contributed to our win and gave us that extra edge over WMA,” she said. “Knowing that we were playing for a cause greater than ourselves was incredibly meaningful. The cause is close to all of us, and our victory was that much more special knowing that it contributed to the fight for mental health awareness and advocacy.”

The Bandana Project “is a mental health awareness and suicide prevention campaign that uses backpacks and bandanas to support peers in getting help,” according to their website. It was formed in 2014 on the River Falls campus of the University of Wisconsin by Dr. Betsy Gerbec, who lost her son to suicide in 2012. He had always worn a headband, so that became the main symbol and namesake for the project moving forward.

Zager praised the openness the Active Minds club is bringing to Williston.

“Active Minds causes more students to talk openly about mental health and wellness in everyday conversations. When these conversations are normalized, the hope is everyone will feel more at ease talking about how they’re doing—whether it’s a hard day or a great day or anything in between,” she said.

Zager also disclosed the club’s future plans, saying that they intend to host “at least one big meeting each month,” specifically on blue Friday mornings. She also hopes to plan their next big event “in the next few weeks,” mentioning that several Williston teams “have expressed interest in planning something with Active Minds.”

Mental health has become a greater and greater problem among teenagers and young adults in the past few years. According to the CDC, “more than 4 in 10 (42%) students felt persistently sad or hopeless and nearly one-third (29%) experienced poor mental health” in 2021. Additionally, “more than 1 in 5 (22%) students seriously considered attempting suicide and 1 in 10 (10%) attempted suicide.”

Zager believes Active Minds and Williston students are working to change that.

“Youth are speaking out and leading the charge.  Every time an actor or an athlete or any kind of role model shares their story about mental health, these topics and experiences grow a little less hidden, and others are inspired to open up and seek support as well.”

Cerasulo honored by KyleCares for bringing Active Minds to two schools

Cerasulo’s involvement with Active Minds at Williston comes after she helped bring the group to her public high school, Minnechaug Regional High School in Wilbraham, Massachusetts. For her efforts the group, which is based in Massachusetts and helps schools get funding to establish Active Minds chapters, honored her with a Student Spotlight in its recent newsletter. Click here to read their feature about Cerasulo.