Elon launches ‘Act-Belong-Commit’ initiative at Mental Health Summit

The two-day summit marked the official launch of the "Act-Belong-Commit" framework, which promotes a mentally healthy Elon campus.

At a new two-day Mental Health Summit this week, Elon officially introduced a holistic approach to promoting mental health and wellness on campus and in the surrounding communities.

The summit marked the launch of the Act-Belong-Commit framework at the university. The ABC model urges people to be active, search for a sense of belonging and commit to a cause in order to promote happiness and good mental health. Robert J. Donovan, who founded the Act-Belong-Commit campaign, told those crowded into McKinnon Hall in the Moseley Center during the summit’s opening session Wednesday night that the initiative’s goal is to promote mental health in the same way as physical health.

“Our focus is on behavior — it’s the things you can do and should do to keep mentally healthy,” Donovan said during his keynote address.

Under the ABC framework, “Act” encourages people to find ways to be physically, socially, mentally and spiritually active in as many ways as possible. “Belong” reminds you to connect with friends, family and your community. “Commit” urges people to become devoted to a cause, whether that means volunteering or learning a new skill. “I like that Act-Belong-Commit is a simple acronym for a critical, action-oriented program at a critical time,” said Elon President Connie Ledoux Book in her opening remarks Wednesday night.

Elon is one of the first college campuses to fully implement the ABC framework, which began in western Australia and has previously been deployed primarily in the area of public health.

“I’m excited about this effort because it recognizes that we’re always working toward excellence,” said Book, who meets with students, faculty and staff for the two-mile Phoenix Walk every Tuesday at 7 a.m., giving the community an opportunity to connect weekly while taking a walk around campus.

The Mental Health Summit included panels of Elon faculty and staff who explained the diverse ways the ABC framework has already been implemented across the campus. The summit offered an opportunity for members of the Elon community to come together around the topic of mental and physical health, see progress Elon is making in those areas, and to look ahead at future steps that can be taken.

A panel of Elon faculty and staff discusses the Act-Belong-Commit framework and its role on campus.

On the first night of the summit, Charlotte Williams, associate director of campus recreation and wellness for student wellness, led a panel discussion about ABC’s role at Elon. Panelists included Melanie Bullock, director of the Center for Leadership; Emily Krechel, director of new student and transitions programs; Jenny Larson, associate director of campus recreation and wellness for recreation programs and facilities; Titch Madzima, assistant professor of exercise science; and Deputy Director of Athletics Mike Ward.

The group provided examples of how the ABC framework has already taken shape on campus. They pointed to the information about ABC that was integrated into the Elon Bound guide given to all first-year students, the focus on developing new campus recreation and wellness initiatives to broaden offerings for students, faculty and staff, and the promotion of leadership through teamwork in a multitude of ways across many campus organizations.

“We’ve stressed we wanted to build student leaders, but we wanted to build healthy student leaders in their journey here at Elon,” Bullock said. “So, the Act-Belong-Commit framework has really helped us determine what that looks like, and how we can create a curriculum for students and student leaders that matches a healthy lifestyle.”

The panel also focused on what the ABC framework looks like when applied to student-athletes, with a Thursday session more fully exploring the topic. On Wednesday night, panelists considered the importance of helping athletes find meaning, purpose and happiness outside of their chosen sport.

“Participation in a sports team alone doesn’t necessarily insulate one from the issues that Act-Belong-Commit is trying to attack,” Ward said. “So, what that’s done is forced us to rethink how we approach this and how we approach student-athlete mental wellness.”

Ward explained Elon’s athletics department has already begun encouraging athletes to connect to student groups and take leadership roles across campus.

Faculty and staff discuss mental wellness on the second day of the Mental Health Summit.

The summit continued Thursday morning with a panel discussion moderated by Deandra Little, associate provost and director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning. The panel focused on creating spaces and support to promote student engagement and featured Jenny Ciesiulka, associate director of student involvement; Amy Johnson, executive director of the Elon Core Curriculum; Danielle Lake, director of design thinking; Cara Lucia, associate professor of sport management; and Randy Williams, associate vice president for inclusive excellence.

Panelists discussed themes like offering effective advising, helping students understand the importance of failure or setbacks, and guiding students who are seeking community on campus.

“The way we talk about involvement here is ‘take advantage of this period of time, take advantage of everything that Elon has to offer,’ and so I think we have some work to do in shifting that language to, ‘find what’s meaningful to you and go deeper into that experience, and make it really impactful during your time here,'” Ciesiulka said. “So, it’s important to help students understand that to be successful doesn’t mean to do everything, but to do a few things well.”

The summit included three other panel discussions that focused on topics such as intersections of identities, mental health in student-athletes and performers, and helping students connect inside and outside of the classroom.

Ziggi Santini gives a keynote lecture on day two of the Mental Health Summit.

Accompanying Donovan’s keynote on Wednesday was a keynote address Thursday by Ziggi Santini, who uses the ABC framework to promote mental health in Denmark in his role in the Danish National Institute of Public Health. He offered his insights about ABC and its role in improving mental wellness, as well as the importance of spreading happiness.

“When you engage in a mentally healthy activity, it doesn’t just affect you, but you’re also improving the community around you,” Santini said. “It makes a difference.”

Director of Campus Recreation and Wellness Larry Mellinger and Professor of Exercise Science Caroline Ketcham chaired the Student Wellness and Well-being Workgroup that identified the ABC framework as a model that could be applied across the Elon campus. Once Professor of Exercise Science Eric Hall encountered ABC in Denmark and introduced the model to Elon, the group decided it had the potential to become the foundation for a campus-wide, holistic well-being campaign.

Now, Elon students, faculty and staff will work together to implement the framework to encourage and a promote a mentally healthy community.

“Nothing is more important to the success of our community, and each of us, than the health and well-being of all of our members,” Book said.