Mental Health Awareness Activism

When I first discovered I was required to do an activist project for class, my head immediately began to race. I never participated in any form of activism in my life, I did not know what to do or even where to start.  It wasn’t until class that I gained a working understanding of the word “activism” but I never identified myself as an activist. I am the furthest thing from a “leader” or a take-charge person, and I could not name one thing that I was passionate about enough to fight for. For weeks I was stressing myself out trying to figure out what my activism project would be until one of my psychology professors told me about an opportunity. He told me that the psychology department was hosting a flashmob to bring attention to the importance of early intervention of mental illness. I found the idea of a flashmob exciting and I soon discovered that this could be the perfect opportunity to be an activist.

Before this class, I always assumed an ”activist” was someone who dedicated their life to their cause, could lead a huge organization promoting their cause, and did nothing but fight for the change they would like to see. I was concerned that just dancing in a flashmob organized by someone else’s organization did not count as activism. In reading for class, along with lecture, I learned that you can be an activist in any number of ways and that it is not limited to making up a new organization. Many times it’s better to join an already existing organization, so that’s what I did. Participating in the flashmob was my form of activism!

My teacher is the leader of the organization behind the planning of the flashmob, YouthFIRST. He and his organization have been in charge of running the flashmob for quite some time. He encouraged us to recruit more people for the flashmob through any means necessary. I personally had told everyone I knew in the psychology department that I came in contact with to ask them if they were or planning on participating in the flashmob. To my surprise, a large body of the UMBC psychology students said they had every intention of attending and participating in the flashmob. Emails were sent and announcements by some were even posted on Facebook. The date for the flashmob was set for May 6, 2015 at noon just outside the Starbucks on the UMBC campus and a video showing the choreography of the flashmob was taught by the organization’s leader’s children and distributed. On May 6, I participated in my first activist project. I was not a leader, but I was involved to make a change. On this day, I could identify as an activist by bringing attention to the importance of early intervention of mental health. After the flashmob was over, some of my fellow psychology majors and I were sitting by the Starbucks just talking, when a writer for the UMBC Weekly Retriever newspaper came over and was asking us some questions. She asked why we study psychology, what makes it important, and why early intervention is so important so she could include it in the school newspaper. I, along with a couple of my psychology friends, answered her questions. As she walked away, I really felt something that I could not describe. In having her ask me these questions, I really felt like I was speaking to everyone about the importance of early intervention. I felt like a true activist!

I would call this project a huge success for many reasons. The flashmob was videotaped and spread throughout the UMBC psychology community, YouTube, and Facebook; so many people are seeing it. During the flashmob, many people just walking through campus were immediately drawn to the excitement and their curiosity would often bring them to the site to see what the commotion was about. People who had no clue about the flashmob were joining in the group and dancing! After the flashmob, we were approached by a writer for the school newspaper seeking information to write about our project. It was very exciting to learn we were going to reach an even bigger audience than imagined! Overall, I thought the flashmob was a huge success, everything worked out perfectly, and I would not do things differently. The cameraman who videotaped the flashmob did not capture the whole group of dancers, so the mob does not look as big as it actually was. Other than that, I think the project was done very well and can only get bigger and gain more attention with each year to come.

This project changed my relationship with activism forever. This was my first activist participation, and I enjoyed being part of an ongoing project. I learned many things about activism and myself first hand that I do not think I could have learned from reading a book or taking a test. I learned that it is extremely important to be interested and passionate about what you’re working for. If you lack the passion, you will likely lack the energy and drive to make a change. I always thought I was a person who had nothing to be passionate about, but when I decided to participate in the flashmob for mental illness, I knew I was where I belonged. My understanding of what activism means has greatly changed since I took the class. I always thought activism was the result of extremists who have dedicated their lives to their fight for their cause. I learned first hand how wonderful it feels to being attention to something you want to see changed and something you’re interested and passionate about. The biggest lesson I have learned is that even the little things can qualify as large acts of activism. I learned that activism could be displayed in more than one way, even by dancing in a flashmob! You do not have to be a leader to be an activist; you just have to have drive and passion to make a difference.

Further Links:

This is our final flashmob on May 6, 2015:

This is the instructional video for those participating, as lead by Jacob and Chloe Schiffman, the children of the leader of the organization:

This is the website for the organization behind the flashmob, Youth FIRST:

Finally, here are some of my fellow psychology majors and I, the organization’s leader (Dr. Schiffman) and his children/our choreographers, Jacob and Chloe after the flashmob:


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