Mental health RSO seeking adequate office space

Active Minds is attempting to secure a new office space outside of the Counseling Center.

Active Minds is an organization that seeks to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and help students find mental health resources in times of crisis.

Caitlin Norris, the Active Minds president, spoke at a President’s Open Forum on Wednesday, March 13, about the organization’s ongoing office space issues.

Active Minds’ office has been located at the Counseling Center on Curtiss Hall since the organization first formed at SVSU about five years ago.

Norris said that, about a year ago, the organization was made aware of potential confidentiality issues caused by Active Minds’ office space.

Dana Kaczynski, the Active Minds advisor and Counseling Center assistant director, brought the issue to Norris’ attention.

Kaczynski said organization members coming in and out of the office during counseling sessions, taking supplies off metal shelves for programs and holding meetings, including meet and greets for new members, was disruptive.

“I got the first email a year ago from our advisor that our members were being disruptive and that it was interfering with the students who might be in a crisis,” Norris said. “If you’re having a bad day, you go to the Counseling Center to relax. You don’t necessarily want to see a bunch of people jumping up and down because they’re so excited about what’s going on.”

Kaczynski did not respond to the Vanguard’s request for comment.

Active Minds had not heard from Kaczynski about any issues with the space again until Feb. 25 of this year, Norris said.

“(The email we received in February) said the same thing – we were being disruptive of sessions,” she said. “Our members had gone in about three times in the span of two hours, so it was a lot for (the Counseling Center) to deal with. They had their students who needed the Counseling Center services, and then they had to deal with us requesting our stuff.”

Norris said Kaczynski was the only Counseling Center member who has expressed concerns to Active Minds.

“Eddie Jones, who is the head of the Counseling Center, never reached out and told us it was an issue. It’s always just been our advisor,” Norris said.

Jones did not respond to the Vanguard’s request for comment.

Norris stressed the office space issue never led to a hostile conversation between Active Minds and the Counseling Center.

“It wasn’t a negative conversation,” she said. “It’s never been Active Minds against the Counseling Center. It was just, what can we do to fix this?”

In the email Active Minds received on Feb. 25, Kaczynski told the organization that they could only come to the Counseling Center during specified times, according to Lawrence Norris.

“We were told that we could only come into the Counseling Center between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. because they don’t see students until 9 a.m, then, noon to 1 p.m., when they’re not seeing students for lunch,” she said. “Sometimes they close for lunch, though, so that only allows us the 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.”

Kaczynski wanted Active Minds to only come in when students are not being seen because their current space is past the offices where sessions are held, so Active Minds members must walk past offices while counseling sessions are being held.

The office’s storage racks are metal racks, which also creates a lot of noise, said Dani Toth, the Active Minds secretary.

“It’s a very small closet space,” she said. “It’s hard to maneuver around in there.”

Kaczynski expressed concerns about confidentially issues caused by the office space’s location, Norris said.

“The confidentiality is a hard thing,” she said. “They just don’t want students to not want to come in because they might recognize us or if we recognize them. I don’t personally pay attention to the people who come in. I hope that I can speak for the rest of my organization and say that we do not pay attention to that. But if they recognize us, they may become fearful and may not want to seek out assistance again.”

Norris said a member of Active Minds ran into this situation about a week after the President’s Open Forum.

“One of my members just told me that someone that she graduated with was in there booking an appointment and that person confronted her with the fact that she didn’t want her to know that person was in
there,” she said.

Norris also expressed concerns for the confidentiality of Active Minds’ members.

“Our applications ask students to talk about why mental health is important to them,” she said. “A lot of people tell their struggles with mental health or a time that they attempted suicide, and we definitely don’t want students to have access to that. It’s not necessarily information for the counselors or interns.”

Active Minds wants to solve the situation, so they can help, not hinder, students’ ability to reach out for mental health help, Toth said.

“We have always been huge advocates of the Counseling Center,” Toth said. “We want people to be able to go there to seek out help, and the fact that us being in there can make people uncomfortable is really heartbreaking for us to hear. That makes it harder for us to carry out our mission of helping students get mental health services.”

Norris said she has spent several hours searching for whom to contact about Active Minds’ office space issue.

Before speaking at the President’s Open Forum last week, Norris asked Student Association whom to contact, and they directed her to Campus Facilities.

Then, she was led to Tammy Elliott, who serves as the special assistant to the provost.

She was also told to contact Jason Schoenmeyer, the associate dean of students; Michele Gunkelman; the director of Residential Life; and John Kaczynski, the director of Governmental Affairs.

After the President’s forum, President Don Bachand said he would help Active Minds.

“The president said he was going to work with his team to figure out who was in charge of rooms,” she said, “because no one seems to know who gives the offices to people.”

While Norris said Active Minds would settle for a storage space, they believe their problems will persist without an office space.

“We need to have an office where students could come to us if they wanted to talk about things,” she said. “If we don’t get that, nothing changes.”

Active Minds faces several challenges caused by not having an office space where students can visit them, Norris said.

“Actually going to counseling is a big step,” she said. “If students aren’t ready to take that step, they could come to us. If a student was in a crisis and they weren’t comfortable enough to go to the Counseling Center, then they could come here, and we could be active in our referral system.”

Active Minds refers students to the Counseling Center when they are facing a crisis. Norris said their lack of office space makes this referral system harder to carry out.

“Right now, if someone comes to us and says they’re contemplating suicide or hurting myself, we have to run to an RA or call the police,” she said. “That’s not something we’re unwilling to do … but if we had an office, that would be an immediate action.”

Norris said they could help students schedule an emergency counseling session more easily if they had an office space.

“One of our board members or any member in the office at the time could say, ‘These are the services we have on campus. I’ll walk with you,” she said. “‘Let’s get you set up with an intern because they always have emergency appointments ready for people.’”

Currently, it is also difficult for students to apply to Active Minds.

“The secretaries (at the Counseling Center) will deal with people who want to join, and they’re not sure how to go through with that,” Norris said.

Many students have a difficult time finding out information about Active Minds since they do not have an accessible office space, according to Norris.

“It’s difficult to locate an organization when they don’t have a home somewhere,” she said.

Kaitlyn Farley

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