Recording artist and professional mental health speaker Kai Roberts led an interactive performance over Zoom sponsored by Active Minds at Bowdoin College on February 18. Active Minds is an organization with chapters at colleges and universities across the nation that focuses on mental health awareness and suicide prevention. The event, “Active Mic: Mental Health through Music,” centered on Roberts personal mental health journey and how he has used music to overcome his challenges.
Olivia Groell ’22, one of the co-leaders and founder of Bowdoin’s chapter of Active Minds, discovered Roberts’ work on Instagram.
“I saw that he was a performer who focuses on anxiety disorders and his experiences with anxiety in college, and I personally had been really excited to do that kind of awareness––about anxiety disorders––ever since I started [Active Minds at Bowdoin],” she said.
To begin the event, Margaret Millar ’22, communications manager of Active Minds at Bowdoin, introduced Roberts. She explained that Roberts developed anxiety and panic disorder while he was a student at Carnegie Mellon University. His passion for and creation of music both during and after college has made an immeasurably positive impact on his and others’ mental health.
“[Roberts] created a series of hip hop lyrics to illustrate what he was going through with the intention of inspiring fellow students to work through college tribulations,” Millar said. “His album Carnegie Cafe quickly became a resource for students dealing with mental health disorders and other stressors in life.”
Roberts began his presentation with a statistic to provide attendees with perspective on the breadth of society’s mental health issues.
“26% of adult Americans deal with a diagnosable mental health disorder in a given year. That’s one out of four people,” he said.
He then transitioned to discussing his own mental health journey and how his experiences in college—especially socially—did not match his expectations.
“I went to college not really knowing what to expect. [I thought] that I was going to a big party or something like that. But when I got there, it was a lot different,” he said.
The difficulties Roberts had in his first two years of college including the pressures of drugs and alcohol, a challenging romantic relationship and the death of two friends—compounded the trauma he experienced from years of bullying that he endured as a child.
In Roberts’ sophomore year at Carnegie Mellon, he began having panic attacks and decided to take a leave of absence. He attended therapy during his time away from school, despite initial resistance to the practice from family members.
“[Therapy is] the reason I’m still here with you all today,” Roberts said. “[On] the first day of therapy, my therapist gave me the tools I needed to start addressing my anxiety.”
This discussion was interspersed with Roberts’ performances of songs he wrote as part of his recovery as well as opportunities for audience members to interact with him via the chat function in Zoom. Audience members were given the opportunity to express their feelings on present challenges they face, ranging from loneliness to fear about the job market.
Roberts ended the talk with three main points he wanted the audience to remember.
“You are not your darkest thoughts and emotions. You are not alone in your struggle, and that you will overcome any struggle that you’re dealing with right now,” he said.
Groell noted that Roberts’ presentation was timely given the inaugural Joint BSG-Student Affairs Staff Mental Health Board meeting had occurred earlier in the week. In addition, she hopes that the success of this event and others like it will increase participation in discussions about mental health at the College.
“I hope that attendees feel like these conversations can be had more in our community … That is the whole point of us having these events,” she said. “Within Active Minds, we’ve been talking about how we want to work with the administration. Nothing will happen if students are only talking among themselves about these issues.”