Sacred Grounds at Colorado College at 8 p.m. on a Monday night is quiet. A group of 15 students gather in a haphazard circle, spread around the room on pillows and cuddling on couches. Most are journaling, and every once in a while someone whispers to the people beside them. The room is cozy, comfortable, and warm.
These students are here for GROW, a club that aims to provide a confidential space to deflate and destress people with mental health issues. Senior Olivia Berlin, one of the group’s leaders, described the club as a space for people to “be who they are and who they want to be.”
The participants range in age, race, and gender, though the majority are white women. Some people are new, but many have been here before. All seem at ease, and open to one another. The energy is soothing and vulnerable.
Many students at Colorado College struggle with mental health. This year the Healthy Minds Survey, taken by nearly half the students at CC, found that about 16 percent of students have received a diagnosis of depression, and 19 percent have received a diagnosis of anxiety. Nearly 35 percent of respondents felt that emotional or mental difficulties hurt their academic performance three or more days in the past four weeks.
Mental health is ambiguous, wide-ranging, and persistent. The category contains depression and anxiety, eating disorders, learning disabilities, posttraumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, among others. Often, they overlap; they are always on a spectrum.
GROW isn’t therapy, but it can be cathartic for people with mental health disorders. Sophomore Charlie Johnson, who attends most meetings, said the club is “a chance for someone to ask me how I am and to actually listen to my answer.”
Each meeting opens with quiet journaling. There isn’t a formal prompt. People write about their day or their week, draw pictures, or doodle on the cover. No one but the individuals will ever read what they write.
People trickle in and quietly pick up their journals. After about 10 minutes, one of the co-leaders unobtrusively starts a check-in. One by one, students say what’s on their minds. No one responds to what’s been said, and every person gets as much time as they want or need. All students are given the same respect.
To begin their turn, the group uses a “traffic light system”: red for a bad mood, yellow for iffy, green for great. Most days, however, people choose something outside that spectrum. First-year Lily O’Dowd gave a good example of how abstract this can get. “I’m feeling like a kinda stressed out [color], where you thought you were going to go home and crash and then figured out you had like 50 pages of reading.” She looked around and landed on a lettuce leaf: “Lettuce leaf purple.”
Once everyone speaks, the club leaders put forth a prompt. One night they asked, “What do you want out of your relationships?” and another night the question was, “How do you cope with stress?”
The conversation quickly moves past the prompts. People bond over shared therapy experiences and encourage one another to keep on it. It’s a mental health affinity group: a place where people can be open with one another and have space to grow.