Profile of Gretchen Haga: A student fighting stigmas around mental illness

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015
 Senior Gretchen Haga displays brochures that will be presented at the Active Minds national convention she will attend in November. (Photo by Emma Masiulewicz)

Senior Gretchen Haga displays brochures that will be presented at the Active Minds national convention she will attend in November. (Photo by Emma Masiulewicz)

Dana Scott/Winonan

Winona State University senior Gretchen Haga is a member of Active Minds club on campus and in November she will be presenting at the Active Minds national convention in California.

Haga is a transfer student majoring in communications, art and literature teaching (CALT) and Spanish.

She transferred from University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point to Winona State three years ago. Haga she decided to transfer to Winona State in order to obtain a teaching license in Minnesota and be closer to her sisters, who live in Minneapolis.

Haga hopes to be an English teacher who directs the schools plays and musicals because her dream job of dancing on Broadway “is not in the cards” for her.

Haga became inspired to be an English teacher by her AP English teacher her senior year of high school.

“It was the first time I was pushed to do really well in school,” Haga said.

Haga said ever since that class she has been drawn to language and literature. She likes the variety and creativity that the subject of English has.

Haga joined the Active Minds club during her second semester at Winona State in the fall of 2013. Active Minds is a mental health advocacy club, which focuses on breaking down the stigma around mental illness.

“Mental health stigma is a huge problem in society,” Haga said. “Friends, family and myself have had their own problems with mental health. Everyone deals with it but no one talks about it.”

Claire Stephens, who left Winona State a few months after the club was formed, created the club and approached Haga about joining.

Due to this, Haga stepped up as co-president of the club and became president the next semester.

Haga is no longer the president of the club, but she is now the coordinator of the mental health monologues, which is what she will be presenting at the convention.

The mental health monologues were a performance put on by the club last April. The club collected stories from Winona State students and staff about friends, family or themselves being impacted by mental health issues and had actors act out the monologues.

Haga stage-managed and even acted in some of the performances. She recalls there being a great turn out for the event, in which the club raised money and donated to Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center in Winona.

Haga said she is excited to be presenting at the conference, but she is also looking forward to attending workshops and keynotes speakers to gain information and ideas to improve mental health awareness and taking action on our campus.

One thing Haga hopes the club can improve on is getting a bigger following and more people interested in breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health.

“Active Minds is so collaborative,” Haga shared. “[They’re a] really good team of people who are passionate and hard working trying to fulfill their mission.”

During meetings they discuss, plan and prepare for upcoming events on campus.

“We engage in discussion around a topic about mental health, and bring up questions about mental health in society and what we can do to change them,” Haga explained. “Those are my favorite meetings.”

Haga shared advice for those struggling with mental illness and are unsure of where they can find resources.

“Anybody can struggle with mental health,” Haga explained. “It does not discriminate.”

Haga said reaching out and talking with someone trusted is the first step to getting better.

“Counseling services on campus has great counselors,” Haga said. “And it’s free.”

Haga also listed the recent anxiety workshops and the newly added mediation room in Kryzsko commons as other resources on campus.

“One in four people experience a mental health issue in their life,” Haga explained. “This shows how common it is. 20 percent of the population is dealing with it, and [the fact that] we aren’t talking about it shows the problem.”

Active Minds club meetings take place every other Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. in dining room B in Kryzsko Commons, and all are welcome.

If interested in Active Minds club, contact the club president, Rachel Allen at

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