Elon hosts Mental Health Summit

The two-day summit will provide an opportunity for the university to introduce its “Act-Belong-Commit” Framework for a mentally healthy Elon.

Elon will officially launch a new approach to mental and physical health for the campus community during a Mental Health Summit planned for Sept. 25 and 26.

The Mental Health Summit will be an opportunity to officially launch the Act-Belong- Commit framework at Elon.

The two-day summit will offer the opportunity to fully introduce the “Act-Belong-Commit” framework that has successfully fostered holistic wellness where it’s been introduced elsewhere in the world. The goal is to inspire a culture of health on Elon’s campus that encourages members of the community to dedicate attention to their mental health in the same way they do their physical health.

The summit includes keynote addresses by Robert J. Donovan, founder of the Act-Belong-Commit campaign, and by Ziggi Santini, who was able to use the framework in his role in the Danish National Institute of Public Health to promote mental health in Denmark.

Both days include panel discussions focused on the three elements of the campaign, with Elon faculty and staff offering their insights. Among the topics for the panel discussions are spaces and support for student engagement, intersections of identities, mental health in student-athletes and performers, and helping students connect inside and outside of the classroom. The full schedule is available here.

“The beautiful thing about the framework is that it applies across many of the different facets of the university,” said Larry Mellinger, director of campus recreation and wellness. “The summit offers the chance to also highlight some of the great work that’s being done.”

The adoption of the ABC framework stems from the Student Wellness and Well-being Workgroup chaired by Mellinger and Caroline Ketcham, professor of exercise science. The group was charged with identifying a foundation for a campus-wide holistic well-being campaign, and identified the ABC framework as a model that could be applied across Elon and build upon some of the work already being done.

Originally developed and implemented in western Australia and then extended to other countries including Denmark, Elon will be one of the first college campuses to fully implement the ABC initiative, which has previously been deployed primarily in the area of public health. Eric Hall, professor of exercise science, helped introduce Elon to the framework after encountering it while teaching in Denmark and interacting with Santini.

“It’s a holistic approach that promotes the idea that if you take care of your physical health, it will take care of your mental health, and vice versa,” Hall said.

The framework offers a simple but powerful approach that is based upon encouraging activity, the pursuit of activity with others, and a commitment to a cause, skill or challenge. “’Act’ is about choices and about ownership and about making those decisions and intentions and behaviors on a daily basis that improve mental, physical and social wellbeing,” Mellinger said.

“Belong” emphasizes the power of community, which can be found in class, in the residence hall, in the office, on the court or anywhere on campus, he said. It’s about finding people “to make Elon really feel like home.”

“Commit” is about combining activity and community by making meaning out of your experiences, Mellinger explained. It encourages people to find something that challenges them and can help them draw meaning out of their experiences, he said. “You’re not just a passive member of a community,” Mellinger said. “There’s a responsibility to yourself and the community.”

The summit seeks to do more than just introduce this approach to mental and physical health, Ketcham said. The variety of panel discussion and keynotes will help members of the campus community begin to see how to apply it with their own language, their own words, and in their own contexts, she said.

Mellinger said the application of this approach can already be seen in diverse areas of campus. “This conversation is not just one that’s undertaken in the counseling center or the rec center,” he said. This can happen in every space on campus, and hopefully this summit will highlight that. There is this momentum toward an entire campus conversation that anyone can buy into.”

The summit is free and is open to those on and off Elon’s campus. Advance registration is not required. More information about the initiative and a schedule of the summit are available here. Additional information about the Act-Belong-Commit framework can be found here.